- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s chief legal counsel has demanded that a top Democrat respond to accusations that bias against the Republican governor is tainting a proposed investigation into administration firings of appointment-level state workers.

“Clearly, you have made up your mind; your independence of judgment is no more,” Jervis S. Finney, the counsel, said in a Thursday letter to Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery Democrat serving on the 12-member Special Committee on State Employee Rights and Protections.

“Indeed,” the letter said, “partisan politics, not the public interest, appears to have guided your conduct and the direction of the [committee] from the very beginning.”

The letter cited a June 29 article in The Washington Times that questioned the fairness of Democrats on the committee and quoted Mr. Frosh as saying that “the stuff the Ehrlich administration has done is illegal.”

The article also quoted Baltimore County’s Sen. Paula Colodny Hollinger, one of eight Democrats on the committee, as saying that the administration’s firings were “against the law.”

Their comments have not helped Democrats who say the investigation is not a “witch hunt.”

Mr. Finney told The Times yesterday that a decision has not been made about whether to also challenge Mrs. Hollinger’s ability to participate fairly in the probe.

He said Mr. Frosh has not responded to the letter.

Mr. Frosh did not return phone calls yesterday.

He told the Baltimore Sun earlier this week that the administration was “trying to change the topic, and it wants the investigation to go away.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George’s Democrat who appointed Mr. Frosh to the committee and received a copy of Mr. Finney’s letter, also did not return calls.

Mr. Miller repeatedly has refused to comment since the June 29 report.

Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton, co-chairman of the committee, has said he opposes replacing Mr. Frosh or Mrs. Hollinger, regardless of their convictions going into the investigation — the General Assembly’s first of somebody outside the legislature in more than 25 years.

“It will probably make for a good review, having people who will not all think alike,” the Charles Democrat said.

Mr. Finney’s letter also accused Mr. Frosh of collaborating with the attorney of several former state workers suing the state over their termination and of helping conceal the identity of MD4Bush.

MD4Bush is the user name of the Internet chat room visitor who in February prodded longtime Ehrlich aide Joseph F. Steffen Jr. into discussing marital infidelity rumors about Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a likely Democratic candidate for governor next year.

The rumor incident, which prompted Mr. Ehrlich to immediately fire Mr. Steffen, also spurred the committee’s probe after newspaper reports that Mr. Steffen was known as the “Prince of Darkness” and secretly worked at identifying state employees to be fired for insufficient loyalty to the administration.

Mr. Frosh was among the first to call for hearings about the administration’s role in spreading the rumor, which he described as “Watergate-style dirty tricks.” The investigation quickly changed course, however, to pursue the administration firings.

Mr. Finney said Mr. Frosh is now steering the probe away from MD4Bush, who the counsel said was connected to the Maryland Democratic Party.

“Your public comments about Ehrlich administration personnel practices … and your acquiescence (by silence) to the scheme of MD4Bush, certainly raise legitimate questions about your involvement in the anticipated legislative investigation,” Mr. Finney wrote.

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