She was convicted in June of stealing $800 from the Maryland General Assembly to pay an employee of her private law firm. But on Tuesday, attorneys for former delegate Tiffany T. Alston suggested that she was the one who had been robbed — of her seat.
After a court hearing, Alston’s attorneys said that the Prince George’s County Democrat is prepared to sue, if necessary, to continue serving in the House of Delegates. And even though she no longer has the keys to her old office in Annapolis, they said she may try to occupy it anyway—a move that could set up an awkward, if not tense, standoff in the halls of the State House.
“We expect she’ll be showing up in the office in the next day or two,” attorney Raouf M. Abdullah told reporters. “She intends to serve.”
How she intends to do that is unclear. Her sentencing last month on a charge of misconduct in office triggered her “permanent” removal from the House under the state constitution, according to a lawyer for the General Assembly.
Alston’s attorneys disputed that interpretation after Tuesday’s court hearing, in which an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge agreed to modify Alston’s one-year suspended jail sentence to probation before judgment, essentially striking her conviction.
“I think the General Assembly acted too hastily,” said J. Wyndal Gordon, another attorney for Alston, who refers to himself as “The Warrior Lawyer” on his Web site, Twitter and Facebook.
Gordon’s argument did not change the view of the legislature’s lawyer, Dan Friedman. And House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said Tuesday that he was sticking with Friedman’s advice — meaning he still considers Alston “permanently removed.”
“This is a trying time for Tiffany Alston and the Maryland General Assembly,” Busch said in a statement. “My first responsibility is to protect the institution of the House of Delegates.”
After her court appearance, Alston, who did not speak to reporters, went to the State House and met briefly with Busch. A representative for Busch declined to comment on the meeting.
Busch and Friedman did not say how they would respond if Alston suddenly showed up in Annapolis, demanding to be allowed into her old office.
Abdullah told reporters that Alston is hopeful she won’t have to resort to legal action to restore her career in the legislature, which pays $43,500 a year. It’s possible, Abdullah said, that Busch could change his mind.
“Now is the time for reflection,” Abdullah said. “The General Assembly should respect the circumstances of this case.”
Gordon added that Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) could also play a role in resolving the situation in favor of Alston, who was serving her first term.
The Prince George’s Democratic Central Committee has selected a replacement for Alston. But O’Malley has yet to make the appointment official and has until about Thanksgiving to do so.
The appointment has its own issues. Greg Hall, the nominee to replace Alston, has acknowledged that he faced drug and handgun possession charges in the 1990s.
“It has been reported in the media that he has a criminal record,” said O’Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory, adding that “everything is taken into consideration” when evaluating such appointees. She would not comment on what action the governor might take.
Alston was back in court Tuesday after a hearing last week in which State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt accused Alston of fabricating some court-ordered community service hours that were needed to get her sentence adjusted.
Alston represented that she had completed 300 hours of volunteer work, putting in more than 15 hours on some days, including the two days that the federal government was shut down because of Hurricane Sandy.
On Tuesday, the allegation of fabricated hours was left unresolved. But Davitt and attorneys for Alston agreed that an additional 80 hours performed by Alston was sufficient to meet the terms of a plea agreement.
Davitt noted in court that his office had spoken with a representative of the organization where Alston volunteered to verify her hours.
Alston has also paid $800 in restitution to the General Assembly, and on Tuesday she paid a $500 civil fine. She remains on probation for three years.
Davitt said he believes that Alston has no standing to return to the House of Delegates but added: “That is strictly up to the legislature to determine.”