- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday agreed with Republicans that Democratic lawmakers should not have contacted the state's top judges to discuss the legislative redistricting plan they are considering.

"I'm not an attorney, but common sense would say 'no,'" Mr. Glendening, a Democrat, said when asked if it would ever be appropriate for lawmakers to contact judges about redistricting.

State Republican leaders are considering legal action against four Democratic legislators who contacted judges of the Court of Appeals about Mr. Glendening's redistricting plan. Republican leaders have accused the Democrats of trying to sway the court's decision on the plan.

Michael Steele, chairman of the state Republican Party, yesterday said he and other party leaders are "looking at all of our options," including filing a complaint with the state's Attorney Grievance Commission against Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a trial lawyer who contacted two judges. He would not elaborate on what Republicans would do but said lawyers are looking at "filing appropriate complaints, etc."

At a news conference yesterday, Mr. Steele was joined in his criticism of Democrats by U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican gubernatorial candidate who noted Mr. Glendening's disapproval of the Democrats' actions.

"Even he knows better," Mr. Ehrlich said of Mr. Glendening.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the leading Democratic gubernatorial contender, believes the Democrats' attempts to talk to judges were wrong, according to her campaign spokesman.

"Her belief is the rules and regulations are in place to protect the public's confidence and everyone should obey them," said Mike Morrill.

Andrew Jay Graham, chairman of the Maryland State Bar Association's Ethics 2000 Committee, said the Democrats were probably wrong in contacting the judges.

"If the matter is still before the court on other issues, I would say the matter is still pending," said Mr. Graham, whose committee reviews and revises rules of ethical conduct.

Maryland attorney's rules of professional conduct prohibit lawyers from seeking to influence a judge and from communicating with judges outside of documented court proceedings about pending matters.

On Tuesday, state Republicans released a memo from the Court of Appeals disclosing that Mr. Miller and three other Democratic lawmakers tried to discuss redistricting with four of the court's nine judges.

The memo contained few details. It stated that Mr. Miller contacted Judges Alan M. Wilner and Glenn T. Harrell Jr., state Sen. Ida G. Ruben of Montgomery County contacted Judge Irma S. Raker, and state Sen. Ullysses Currie of Prince George's County contacted Chief Judge Robert M. Bell.

It also said Delegate Ruth M. Kirk of Baltimore sent a letter to Judge Bell.

"In each instance, when the purpose of the call became clear, the judge communicated that he/she could not discuss the substance or merits of the cases," the memo stated.

Judge Bell stopped reading and returned Mrs. Kirk's letter when he realized redistricting was the topic, the memo said.

Republican leaders characterized the Court of Appeals memo as "a cry for help" from a judiciary that has been "bullied" by Mr. Miller and lawmakers who control their budget.

Democratic officials dismissed accusations that they had tried to influence the court.

Mr. Miller denied Republicans' claims that he was the "ringleader" in an effort to affect the court, expressing an unrepentant attitude in challenging judges, including the state's top jurist, Judge Bell.

"I will continue to be in bouts with the judiciary," said Mr. Miller, who represents Prince George's County.

"If Judge Bell didn't want to put me in my place, this wouldn't be an issue."

The Senate president suggested that Republicans are targeting him because he heads the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, whose mission is to put Democrats in control of state legislatures across the country. And Mr. Miller maintained that his questioning a procedural ruling the court made was not the same as talking about pending matters.

"I respectfully disagree," said Mr. Graham of the state bar's ethics committee.

Sanctions against lawyers for "knowing and intentional" violations of rules of professional conduct range from public reprimand to disbarment, said an official with the state's Attorney Grievance Commission.

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