- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2001

Friendship Heights Mayor Alfred Muller, who became a national figure in the anti-smoking movement after his Maryland village adopted an outdoor smoking ban, has been ordered to stay away from children pending the outcome of a felony sexual-abuse case.
A 14-year-old boy has accused Dr. Muller, 58, of fondling him at the urinals in a basement restroom at the National Cathedral on Sunday afternoon.
The boy identified the mayor after a security guard showed him a People magazine article featuring Dr. Muller and his anti-smoking crusade. The mayor denies the charge of second-degree child sexual abuse.
"He's entered a plea of not guilty, and he denies the allegations," defense attorney Preston Burton told reporters outside D.C. Superior Court yesterday. "We will mount a vigorous defense."
Dr. Muller, who has been freed on his own recognizance, did not offer any comments.
During a short arraignment, Commissioner Evelyn Coburn told the mayor to appear for a Feb. 21 preliminary hearing, and ordered him not to be alone in the company of children under age 16.
Dr. Muller, an internist with an office in the District of Columbia, turned himself in at the Metropolitan Police 2nd District station Wednesday night. He spent the night in a cell.
News of the arrest jolted colleagues in Montgomery County government who have watched Dr. Muller serve the community for decades.
Esther P. Gelman, a former county council member and a friend of Dr. Muller's since the 1970s, said she almost lost control of her car when she heard of the arrest on the radio.
"I'm so heartsick, I can't tell you," she said. "He's one of the most wonderful, community-oriented… . He is just a prince."
Dr. Muller ran unsuccessfully for county council on the same slate as Mrs. Gelman in 1982. While campaigning, she recalled, elderly residents would often occupy the doctor's time with medical questions, to which he obliged.
Mrs. Gelman thinks the charge may be a misunderstanding.
"I hope there's an explanation," she said.
County council member Howard Denis is one of Dr. Muller's constituents.
"We've been friends for 25 years," said Mr. Denis, a Republican representing the Chevy Chase-Bethesda area. "He's done great things in the village, and I'm praying for him."
He added: "The golden thread that runs through the law is the presumption of innocence."
According to charging papers, the boy told police he first noticed Dr. Muller in the bathroom about 3 p.m. looking at him through the mirror and smiling. While both were using the urinals, the boy said, the mayor grabbed him.
The boy, who was on a field trip, told several friends outside what had happened. The friends went back inside the cathedral and noticed Dr. Muller on the stairs.
"One of the friends in the group recognized the defendant from being in the bathroom with him only moments before," the affidavit for the arrest warrant states.
A security guard called out to the mayor as he left the cathedral, but he did not respond. He got into his car and drove off.
A staff aide recognized Dr. Muller as an usher at the cathedral and recalled an interview with him in a recent issue of People magazine. The boy was shown the article and accompanying picture and he made a positive identification.
Police called the mayor, and he admitted to being at the scene "but he states that the circumstances were different," the affidavit said.
Dr. Muller gained notoriety last year for campaigning to keep smokers from lighting up outside the high-rises and chic shops in the 32-acre village of Friendship Heights on the Maryland-D.C. border.
The village passed an outdoor smoking ban in 1996, but because it is a taxing district of 5,000 residents and not a municipality, all Friendship Heights laws must be approved by the county council.
Dr. Muller waited to bring the issue before the council because he felt it had a better chance of getting approval in 2000 than in 1996. He testified on behalf of the ban, provided numerous interviews on the dangers of secondhand smoke and lobbied for support in the county.
Finally, on Dec. 12 the Montgomery County Council issued its approval in a 5-4 vote.
The ban states that smoking is prohibited in public parks and sodded areas and on sidewalks, punishable by a warning the first time, and a $100 fine for repeat offenders.
The ban was accompanied by an education campaign and took effect immediately, though no one has yet been fined.
Last week, a judge issued a temporary restraining order in response to a resident's lawsuit. A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 15.
The lawsuit challenges the authority of special taxing districts to enact far-reaching smoking bans. The suit claims the ban is pre-empted by state law and is unconstitutional.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide