Inquiry of lawmakers who contacted judges on remapping complete

Sun Staff

The General Assembly's ethics committee completed its investigation last night into the actions of six lawmakers who contacted Court of Appeals judges about lawsuits against the state's redistricting plan.

But after 9 1/2 hours of closed deliberations, the committee -- noting the Assembly's confidentiality rules -- refused to release its findings and its recommended punishment, if any.

"We did a very, very careful and a very, very thorough review of the information," said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat and co-chairman of the ethics committee. "The nature of the complaint warranted it."

The committee, which heard a full day of testimony Aug. 9, intended to send its written findings last night to the six lawmakers identified as having contacted the judges. It also planned to send a copy to state Republican Chairman Michael S. Steele, who filed the ethics complaint.

But Middleton said the "confidential nature of the process" prevented committee members from releasing their findings or discussing them publicly.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller -- one of the six lawmakers who contacted the judges -- said last night that he had not seen the committee's report.

"I have no idea what they've done," Miller said. "I haven't been in touch with them."

The committee's other co-chairman, Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, said it will be up to the six lawmakers and Steele to decide whether to release the report. The committee's findings could range from dismissing the complaint to recommending the expulsion of individual lawmakers, he said.

In addition to Miller, the five other lawmakers under investigation are Sens. Ida G. Ruben of Montgomery County, Clarence W. Blount of Baltimore, Ulysses Currie of Prince George's County and Robert R. Neall of Anne Arundel, and Del. Ruth M. Kirk of Baltimore. All are Democrats.

Miller, Ruben, Blount and Currie had conversations with judges, while Neall and Kirk wrote letters to the court.

Kirk, reached at home last night, also said she had not seen the findings.

In testimony last week before the ethics committee, Ruben said she made her phone call to a judge at the suggestion of Miller. The Senate president has said he could not recall having any such conversation with Ruben.

The contacts by the lawmakers occurred as the state's highest court was considering legal challenges to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's legislative redistricting plan. The court rejected the plan as unconstitutional and drew its own map, cutting back the number of districts in Baltimore and threatening the re-election chances of many veteran lawmakers.

As the court was deliberating on the case, it issued two unprecedented public statements revealing the contacts. The judges reported that they cut off the conversations as soon as they realized the lawmakers wanted to discuss the pending redistricting lawsuits.

Nevertheless, Steele -- who is a GOP candidate for lieutenant governor -- filed an ethics complaint and charged that Miller led an attempt to influence the court's decision.

Miller has denied those charges, but in June he issued a written public apology for his actions. He said that his phone conversations with two judges were not intended "to improperly influence the court."

The completion of the ethics committee's work yesterday does not end inquiries into the actions of the lawmakers.

The Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission is investigating the conduct of Miller, who is a lawyer.

In addition, Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican, sent a letter this week to State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli calling for an investigation into whether criminal contempt charges should be filed against Miller and possibly other legislators.

Flanagan said yesterday he believes that while the ethics committee has looked into the "integrity of the legislature," he thinks the state prosecutor ought to investigate to ensure the "integrity of the judiciary."

Montanarelli confirmed yesterday that he has begun "an inquiry into the letter," as his office does with all complaints that "are not clearly frivolous."

But Montague, the ethics committee co-chairman, said none of the committee's work nor the lawmakers' testimony will be made available to the state prosecutor because of the confidentiality rules of the Assembly's ethics process.

Sun staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this article.

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