- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Maryland's Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics ended an investigation last night, but refused to reveal whether they found that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and other Democrat lawmakers tried to influence judges' decisions to uphold or overturn the state's redistricting plan.
Sen. Thomas M. Middleton and Delegate Kenneth Montague, co-chairmen of the panel, said the committee would not reveal any information, including whether they recommended sanctions against five senators and one delegate whose contacts with judges through telephone calls, meetings or letters were looked into.
They said the legislature's own laws and confidentiality rules on "personnel" matters barred any public disclosure.
"If we weren't bound by that confidentiality, it could undermine the credibility of the ethics committee," said Mr. Middleton, Southern Maryland Democrat.
"This is a personnel matter for the General Assembly, and those are off-limits," Mr. Montague said, insisting that it "doesn't matter" that the officials were elected by the public.
Under the legislature's laws, disclosure of complaints, proceedings or records of the ethics committee is prohibited unless the legislator in question consents or three-quarters of the committee votes to disclose.
The co-chairmen refused even to say whether the committee took a vote.
More information would not be available unless the accused lawmakers or the person who filed the complaint Maryland Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele decide to release it, they said.
Mr. Steele said last night he "likely" would disclose contents of responses to complaints he filed against five senators, but that he had not received notices yet.
Mr. Steele's complaints led to investigations of calls made by Sens. Miller, Ulysses Currie and Ida G. Ruben to Court of Appeals judges; a meeting that Sen. Clarence Blount had with Chief Judge Robert Bell, and a letter that Sen. Robert R. Neall sent to a retired judge who advised the court on challenges to the reapportionment of state legislative districts.
The committee also considered a letter Delegate Ruth Kirk sent to Judge Bell.
Mr. Steele said he had heard that the committee's letter to Mr. Miller was "very strong" and that two complaints were dismissed.
Mr. Steele has said it appeared that Mr. Miller directed senators to call judges whom they knew in an effort to preserve the Democrat-drawn redistricting plan against more than a dozen lawsuits filed by Republicans and disgruntled Democrats.
Last week, Mrs. Ruben, of Montgomery County, said Mr. Miller called her to the podium during a legislative session and said she "'might want to call'" Judge Irma Raker, who also lives in Montgomery County, about redistricting.
Mrs. Ruben, who opened her questioning by the committee to the public, said she called Judge Raker, but that they did not discuss the redistricting, because she asked the judge whether it was appropriate and the judge said no.
Mr. Blount, of Baltimore County and city, who also opened his testimony, said he mentioned redistricting in a meeting with Judge Bell, and that they did not discuss it for the same reason.
But ethics committee member Sen. Dolores Kelley of Baltimore asked Mr. Blount if he would be "surprised" that a colleague had said in closed session that he did discuss the matter with Judge Bell for about 10 minutes.
Mr. Currie, of Prince George's County, has said he called Judge Bell, but he closed his questioning by the panel to the public, as did Mr. Miller.
In his letter Mr. Neall, of Anne Arundel County, argued for a change on behalf of constituents that would not help and could hurt his bid for re-election.
Mrs. Kirk, of Baltimore, also argued for what she said was fairer representation for constituents.

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