- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2008

ANNAPOLIS — A package of taxes and fees passed during the recent General Assembly special session took effect yesterday after a Carroll County judge declined to impose a stay while a lawsuit challenging the validity of the session makes its way through the courts.

Smokers yesterday started paying $1 more per pack of cigarettes, while taxes increased for car buyers, corporations and high-wage earners. A penny increase in the state sales tax is to take effect tomorrow.

Republican legislative leaders are still awaiting the outcome of a long-shot legal case that could overturn the tax increases.

Irwin Kramer, the lawyer representing five Republican lawmakers and a Carroll County businessman who brought the lawsuit, is scheduled to depose the key witness in the case this morning in Annapolis.

Mr. Kramer has taken the unusual step of requesting a judge be present when he deposes chief clerk of the House of Delegates, Mary Monahan, because he thinks lawyers with the state Attorney General’s Office will try to block questions during the deposition.

“I know when I ask the first question they are going to say, ‘Don’t answer that,’ ” he said yesterday.

The case, based on an obscure provision of the state constitution that lawmakers may have violated during the frenzied session in November, has turned on charges that someone may have doctored the House Journal in an attempt to conceal the constitutional misstep.

But even if Carroll County Circuit Court Judge Thomas F. Stansfield rules in favor of the plaintiffs and finds that the Senate adjourned without the proper authority, it is far from certain whether he will invalidate the tax increases and the slot-machine gambling referendum approved during the session.

Mr. Kramer said that overturning the taxes was not the point of the lawsuit. He said it was about ensuring that “lawmakers follow the law.”

“It’s more about transparency and integrity than it is about taxes,” Mr. Kramer said.

An analysis by The Washington Times uncovered apparent discrepancies between the House and Senate versions of events during the special session, highlighting the importance of Mrs. Monahan’s testimony.

On Nov. 9, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. told senators that they would return to work on Nov. 13, according to an audio recording of the Senate proceedings obtained by The Times.

But the official House Journal filed with the court includes a message from the Senate dated Nov. 9 that says it intended to adjourn until Nov. 15.

Mr. Kramer said he thinks the Nov. 9 message in the House Journal is a “fabrication” created after the fact. He said he thinks Mrs. Monahan can confirm his claim, and he wants to depose her because of her “reputation as a straight shooter.”

Mr. Miller, Southern Maryland Democrat, also sent a memo to senators on Nov. 12 alerting them that the Senate would not reconvene until Nov. 15.

It is not clear why Mr. Miller had to clarify for senators that they would not be coming back to work on Nov. 13 if the Senate told the House it would reconvene on Nov. 15, as is recorded in the House Journal.

Mrs. Monahan, the clerk responsible for recording and validating House proceedings, has been bounced between attorneys and multiple Maryland courts since the case was filed on Dec. 13.

The state’s highest court Monday dismissed a motion by Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler to block Mrs. Monahan’s testimony, joining two lower courts that said she could not be stopped from testifying because of “legislative privilege.”

It is not clear whether Mr. Gansler had standing to file the motion.

David R. Thompson, an Eastern Shore lawyer, says he is Mrs. Monahan’s personal attorney, but Mr. Gansler has asserted that he as attorney general represents the chief clerk in her official capacity.

Neither Mr. Thompson nor a spokeswoman for Mr. Gansler could be reached yesterday.

Arguments in the case are scheduled for Friday.

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