- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

Maryland Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele has asked the state Court of Appeals to begin criminal contempt proceedings against four Democratic state senators who contacted judges about redistricting while the court was hearing lawsuits over the new legislative map.

The state Republican Party also has asked the court to appoint Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank Weathersbee, a Democrat, to begin a grand jury investigation.

Mr. Steele yesterday said the public has a right to know what was said and what transpired when state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and state Sens. Ida G. Ruben of Montgomery County, Ulysses Currie of Prince George's County and Clarence Blount, who represents Baltimore, contacted four of seven judges to talk about redistricting.

"This is trying to re-establish the integrity of the court, which has been diminished by Miller and his colleagues," Mr. Steele said.

The GOP chairman said the four senators and state Sen. Robert R. Neall, also a Democrat, will be named in ethics complaints.

Mr. Miller who represents parts of Calvert, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties told the Associated Press that Republicans were trying to confuse voters with "raw, right-wing, extremist, poisonous, Gingrich-type politics."

Mr. Neall sent a letter to retired Judge Robert Mr. Karwacki, who was appointed to oversee challenges to the reapportionment plan and make recommendations to the court.

His letter, dated May 3, asks Judge Karwacki to return a Crofton precinct with 2,900 residents that he represents from a new district that is mostly in Prince George's County.

Mr. Neall told The Washington Times he didn't care whether the request was appropriate, because he believes it to be in the best interest of that precinct's residents to be with other Anne Arundel voters.

Such a change would not appear to help Mr. Neall, who left the Republican Party after the 1998 election, because the precinct in question has more Republicans than Democrats.

Last week, the Republicans filed a complaint with the State's Attorney Grievance Commission asking for sanctions against Mr. Miller, a trial lawyer, for trying to discuss redistricting with Judges Alan M. Wilner and Glenn T. Harrell Jr.

They say Mr. Miller's actions violate the state's Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct forbidding private discussions with judges about pending matters.

Sanctions can range from disbarment to a public reprimand.

According to the memos the court has released since the contact attempts were disclosed last month, judges rebuffed legislators' attempts to discuss redistricting, saying they could not talk about the substance or merits of the case.

Mr. Miller has said he called to complain about the court's decision to put the burden on Gov. Parris N. Glendening to defend his plan and that his comments were not inappropriate because they pertained to a hearing that was over, not pending matters.

Top officials, including the chairman of the state bar association's ethics committee and Mr. Glendening, have disagreed.

According to Andrew Jay Graham, chairman of the Maryland State Bar Association's Ethics 2000 Committee, if the matter is before the court it is still pending, not over.

Mr. Glendening said "common sense" would suggest that legislators trying to talk to judges about redistricting was not appropriate.

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