- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.’s removal of a fellow Democrat from a key committee has highlighted a rift between Democratic lawmakers in medical malpractice reform.

Mr. Miller last week replaced state Sen. James Brochin, a medical insurance broker, on the Judicial Proceedings Committee with Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a trial lawyer.

“I think it had something to do with a conversation I had with [Mr. Miller] six weeks earlier,” Mr. Brochin, Baltimore Democrat, told The Washington Times yesterday. “I told him I don’t think he has gone far enough on a compromise on [malpractice reform]. I think that is the reason I was replaced by a trail lawyer.”

Mr. Stone, Baltimore County Democrat, is a lawyer in the firm of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos.

Mr. Miller, Prince George’s County Democrat and himself a trial lawyer, has led Senate opposition to the Ehrlich administration’s plans for reducing medical malpractice insurance costs — measures that House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, has supported.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat and chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said the decision to replace Mr. Brochin was made against his objections. His committee would oversee legislation on malpractice reform.

“I talked to [Mr. Miller] and told him Brochin really wanted to stay on the committee, and I wanted to keep him,” said Mr. Frosh, who referred to Mr. Brochin as a “friend and a capable guy.”

Even Mr. Stone, who has served two previous stints on the committee, said he was caught off guard by the change.

“At the time, I wasn’t certain who I was being asked to replace. I only found that out later,” Mr. Stone said. “My understanding is there is a need for attorneys on that committee, so I accepted.”

With Mr. Stone’s and Mr. Brochin’s reassignments, the 11-member panel now has six lawyers and one insurance broker.

Of the Senate’s 47 members, 12 are lawyers, three work in insurance firms and one is an anesthesiologist. Among the House’s 141 delegates, 31 hold law degrees, three work in insurance and four are pharmacists.

Mr. Miller did not return two calls to comment yesterday. He has said his decision to replace Mr. Brochin had nothing to do with tort reform.

Democratic Party Chairman Isiah “Ike” Leggett dismissed the Senate president’s move as “inside politics.”

“That is something we leave up to the leadership,” Mr. Leggett said, adding that some Democrats have expressed concern about Mr. Miller’s action.

“A number of people have raised questions about it,” he said, “and my answer has been that it is the prerogative of the chairman and the Senate president.”

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday said he has spoken with Mr. Miller about the new appointment, but declined to elaborate.

“The president of the Senate gets to run his chamber, as I get to run my administration,” the Republican governor said. “One change on one committee — even the committee of jurisdiction — is not going to have a dramatic impact.”

Mr. Ehrlich met with Mr. Busch for about an hour yesterday to discuss crafting a medical malpractice reform bill that could be approved by the General Assembly before the end of the year — when a 33 percent increase in malpractice insurance premiums is set to take effect. Mr. Miller did not participate in the meeting.

The governor said there still are at least “20 points of contention” among leaders on a bill he submitted to them last month.

“The reason for the high number is everyone realizes this is the one chance to solve the problem. The solution needs to be comprehensive, and it needs to be now,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

The state’s largest medical insurer — the Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland — has said it is suffering from a surge in malpractice payouts. The insurer, which covers about 6,000 doctors statewide, has been authorized to increase premiums by 33 percent on Dec. 31, after having raised premiums by 28 percent last year and 10 percent the previous year.

Maryland officials have said such increases will force doctors to close their practices or leave the state. The latest increase will force some to pay as much as $150,000 a year in insurance premiums.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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