- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2006

3:50 p.m.

ANNAPOLIS — The state’s highest court today temporarily stopped the General Assembly from firing the Public Service Commission.

Attorneys for the commission had asked the court for a temporary restraining order that would have returned the case to Baltimore City Circuit Court, where a judge ruled against them less than two weeks ago.

But the appeals court decision to block the firing until the seven judges issue a written opinion “cuts through” the process of remanding the case to the circuit court, said Gregory M. Kline, one of two attorneys for the commission.

“We’re very happy with [the decision] and I think it vindicates the position we put forward today,” Mr. Kline said.

The Democratic-controlled legislature voted last month to fire the commission over its dissatisfaction with the handling of Baltimore Gas and Electric’s proposed 72 percent rate increase.

The lawmakers had also set a July 15 deadline for Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a Republican, to appoint five new members from a list they had given him.

If Mr. Ehrlich did not appoint anyone, the legislature would then have made the appointments.

Mr. Ehrlich said firing of the commission members, which included several of his appointee, was an attempt to shift the blame for skyrocketing electricity rates.

During oral arguments this morning, commission attorney Andrew Radding said the state legislature did not have constitutional authority to fire the five members.

“Our constitution is clear,” he said. “The language is clear about removal. The state has passed an unconstitutional law.”

Assistant Attorney General Michael D. Berman argued the state legislature has almost unlimited power to remove state employees from their jobs.

“As absurd as it may be, yes,” he said. “The plenary power of the legislature, absent a limitation, is near absolute.”

Mr. Radding took issue with that interpretation, and at least two judges appeared skeptical of Mr. Berman’s claim.

“There will be serious consequences to this state if we are to accept the state’s position that they have absolute power,” Mr. Radding said.

The judges heard just over an hour of arguments, then retired to their chambers before issuing the ruling after about an hour.

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