A Maryland delegate has been suspended from office following her plea agreement on two sets of criminal charges, but her lawyers say they think she could be reinstated in time for the General Assembly's next session in January.
Delegate Tiffany Alston, Prince George's Democrat, is now suspended without pay or benefits, according to an opinion issued Wednesday by the state attorney general's office and sent to House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat.
Mrs. Alston pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges that she used $3,500 in campaign funds to pay for her wedding, settling that case as well as one from June in which she was found guilty of using $800 in state funds to pay an employee at her law firm.
Mrs. Alston's attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, said Wednesday that his client does not dispute the suspension, but she expects to return to office as soon as she pays back the $800 and completes community service -- a process that he says would strike her conviction from the record and could be completed in as little as one month.
"The judge has basically indicated that she will get it as a matter of entitlement," Mr. Gordon said. "Once her conviction is stricken, we believe that allows her to return to office."
The state constitution allows for suspension of officials convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors related to misconduct in office, as well as removal from office when the conviction is finalized.
Ms. Alston received 300 hours of community service, a one-year suspended jail sentence and three years of supervised probation. Mr. Gordon said it is his understanding that her completion of community service would replace her conviction with probation before judgment, and that is essentially all that keeps her from returning to Annapolis.
"The constitution is clear on [the suspension], but that's not where the fight was," he said. "If she doesn't have a conviction, then she can return."
The state prosecutor's office did not return calls on Wednesday asking for its interpretation of the plea agreement.
Now that Ms. Alston has been suspended, the Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee has 30 days to submit a list of possible replacements to Gov. Martin O'Malley.
Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, would then have 15 days to select a replacement.
Many critics have raised concerns about Maryland's procedure to suspend or remove elected officials, which allows politicians who are found guilty of crimes to continue in office until their sentencing.
The issue came to light last year when then-Prince George's County Council member Leslie Johnson pleaded guilty to corruption charges and tried to remain in office until her sentencing, but was pressured into resigning.
A constitutional amendment on the ballot next month would force officials from office in such cases as soon as they are found guilty or enter a plea of guilty or no contest.
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