- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s chief legal counsel has called on state Sen. Brian E. Frosh to recuse himself from an investigation of administration firings of appointed workers, saying his bias against the governor taints the probe.

“Your continued material misstatements of fact demonstrate that your independence of judgment has been impaired,” counsel Jervis S. Finney said Friday in a letter to Mr. Frosh.

“Accordingly, in view of your continued course of conduct, the Ehrlich administration requests that you resign from the Special Committee.”

Mr. Frosh, a Montgomery Democrat on the 12-member Special Committee on State Employee Rights and Protections, did not return a call seeking comment yesterday.

Mr. Finney’s call for Mr. Frosh’s resignation from the panel follows his July 21 letter to the senator, in which he demanded that Mr. Frosh address questions about bias.

In a letter Thursday to Mr. Finney, Mr. Frosh did not address the bias issue, but repeated his charge that the Ehrlich administration wrongly fired state workers for political reasons.

The Washington Times reported June 29 that two Democrats on the investigative panel expressed opinions about the legality of the Republican administration’s actions before the committee had even convened.

Mr. Frosh told The Times that “the stuff the Ehrlich administration has done is illegal.”

The Times also quoted Sen. Paula Colodny Hollinger of Baltimore County, one of eight Democrats on the committee, as saying the administration’s firings were “against the law.”

The Ehrlich administration has not formally challenged Mrs. Hollinger’s participation in the probe.

In his letter to the governor’s counsel, Mr. Frosh again said the state’s decision to settle a lawsuit by Baltimore County Council member Vincent J. Gardina, a Democrat who claimed he was fired from his state job because of his party affiliation, proves the administration acted illegally.

“The Administration admitted [wrongdoing] when it paid $100,000 to Vincent Gardina, rather than contest his complaint that he had been wrongly fired for political reasons,” Mr. Frosh said.

Mr. Finney responded in his letter by citing The Times’ June 29 article, in which a spokesman for the Maryland Attorney General’s Office was quoted as saying that the $100,000 settlement included a “no admissions of liability” clause.

Mr. Ehrlich has denied wrongdoing in firing at-will workers such as Mr. Gardina, who serve at the pleasure of the governor and can be fired without cause.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George’s Democrat who appointed Mr. Frosh to the committee, repeatedly has declined to comment about bias among Democrats on the committee.

Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton, co-chairman of the committee, has said he opposes replacing Mr. Frosh or Mrs. Hollinger regardless of their convictions going into the investigation — the General Assembly’s first of someone outside the legislature in more than 25 years.

“It will probably make for a good review, having people who will not all think alike,” the Charles County Democrat said.

Republicans have characterized the investigation as a “witch hunt.”

Mr. Finney also has accused Mr. Frosh of collaborating with the attorney of several former state workers suing the state over their termination and of helping conceal the identity of “MD4Bush.”

MD4Bush is the user name of an Internet chat room visitor who in February prodded Ehrlich aide Joseph F. Steffen Jr. into discussing infidelity rumors about Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a likely Democratic candidate for governor next year.

The incident prompted Mr. Ehrlich to fire Mr. Steffen and spurred the committee’s probe after newspaper reports that Mr. Steffen secretly worked at identifying state employees to be fired for insufficient loyalty to the administration.

Mr. Frosh has denied knowing the identity of MD4Bush.

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