- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 17, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Maryland's Joint Legislative Ethics Committee found that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. "abused his position" when he contacted judges this spring to discuss redistricting while they were considering challenges to the Democrat-drawn plan.

In a letter to Maryland Republican Party Chairman Michael S. Steele, the committee said it will reprimand Mr. Miller for contacting Court of Appeals Judges Alan M. Wilner and Glen T. Harrell Jr.

"In view of Senator Miller's knowledge of the rules and his inherent power as Senate President, the Committee concludes that he abused his position in the General Assembly," the letter reads.

Reached yesterday at his law office before Republicans disclosed the committee's findings, Mr. Miller said, "I continue to feel I am a victim of right-wing Republican partisanship.

"I've done nothing legally, morally or ethically wrong." said Mr. Miller, who represents Prince George's, Calvert and Anne Arundel counties.

Mr. Miller said he had not seen the letter the committee sent to him, which he said was waiting for him at his Annapolis office.

"No matter how severe the letter might be, I'm just glad this part is over," he said

The committee said it found "no compelling evidence" that Mr. Miller and Sens. Ida G. Ruben, Ulysses Currie, Clarence W. Blount and Robert R. Neall "engaged in an orchestrated effort to corrupt the judicial process and achieve a particular outcome."

But Mr. Currie, Mrs. Ruben and Mr. Blount did violate ethics standards by contacting judges to talk about redistricting while challenges to the plan were before the court, the committee said in separate letters.

The committee also said that Mr. Miller's and Mr. Currie's actions eroded "public confidence in the operation of State Government."

Mr. Currie, who represents Prince George's County, will be admonished for contacting Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, the committee said.

Although Mr. Currie said he believes his talk with Judge Bell and his remarks about his role as chairman of a subcommittee that oversees the state court systems budget have been misunderstood, the ethics committee said it created "a perception of undue influence."

Mr. Currie said yesterday he did not want to "second guess" the committee's interpretation.

The panel said that no further action was warranted against Mrs. Ruben, who represents Montgomery County, because she did not discuss redistricting with Judge Irma Raker after first asking if it would be appropriate and being told "no."

Further action against Mr. Blount was not justified because the "violation that has been alleged was inadvertent, technical and minor," the committee said.

Republicans said the letters show why there is a need for change of leadership in state government, which has been dominated by Democrats for decades.

"This is the reason why we need change in Annapolis," Paul D. Ellington, executive director of the state Republican Party, said in a statement. "This is the arrogance of a monopoly that has been in control for too long."

Committee members refused to reveal any information about decisions they reached during nearly 10 hours of deliberation Thursday.

Under the legislature's own laws, disclosure of complaints, proceedings or records of the ethics committee is prohibited unless the legislator in question consents or three-fourths of the committee votes to disclose.

Committee co-chairmen Sen. Thomas M. Middleton and Delegate Kenneth Montague said that confidentiality rules about personnel matters also barred them from discussing their findings.

Complaints by the state Republican Party in May prompted the investigation.

Republicans have also filed a complaint against Mr. Miller with the state's Attorney Grievance Commission for having private discussions with judges about matters before the court. Such discussions are forbidden by lawyers' conduct codes.

The ethics committee said Mr. Miller's knowledge of those rules and "disrespectful demeanor toward the judges" also moved them to reprimand him.

Mr. Miller is a trial lawyer and the longest-serving Senate president in the nation. He also is chairman of the national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, leading the effort to get Democrats elected to and in control of state legislatures nationwide.

Delegate Ruth M. Kirk, who sent a letter to Judge Bell, said yesterday she had received a letter from the ethics committee dismissing charges and that she believed the response showed they "understand I'm not a lawyer" and did not mean to do anything wrong.

Mrs. Kirk sent a letter to Judge Bell complaining that the plan carved up her district unfairly through deals made to serve political ends.

She said the court returned the letter to her without a response from Judge Bell.

The Court of Appeals overturned the legislative map on June 10, ruling it unconstitutional. Within weeks, the court redrew the map, which will define state lawmakers' districts for the next 10 years.

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