- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — The state’s Court of Appeals yesterday temporarily blocked 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 Circuit Court, where a judge ruled against them less than two weeks ago.

However, the 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.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican seeking re-election this fall, said he was pleased with the court’s decision.

“As many independent observers and experts have recognized, the General Assembly’s election-year attack on the Public Service Commission exceeds legislative authority to the detriment of Maryland consumers,” he said. “The legislature’s continued overreaching is a desperate attempt to deflect blame for its misguided 1999 deregulation law.”

The office of Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said that the court has not ruled on the merits of this case and has indicated that it will take more time to consider the arguments.

“As we argued to the Court, there are of course appropriate limits on the General Assembly’s power, but the legislation at issue in this case falls squarely within the General Assembly’s authority,” the office said in a written statement.

Last month, the Democratic-controlled General Assembly voted to fire the commission over its dissatisfaction with the handling of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.’s proposed 72 percent rate increase.

The lawmakers also had set a July 15 deadline for Mr. Ehrlich 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.

Members of the commission filed a lawsuit last month to try to protect their jobs. The suit was filed in Baltimore Circuit Court on behalf of the commission and its chairman, Kenneth Schisler.

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

Rates for the 1.1 million BGE customers were set to go up 72 percent July 1. However, the legislature capped the increase at 15 percent until next year, when rates could rise even higher than 72 percent to reach market levels.

During the hearing yesterday, Assistant Attorney General Michael D. Berman, who argued the case on behalf of the General Assembly, said the bill approved by the legislature did not fire the PSC, but that it restructured the agency, an action that more clearly falls under the state legislature’s authority.

“It is well established that … agencies of government were created by the General Assembly, and the General Assembly may abolish those agencies,” Mr. Berman argued.

Mr. Schisler’s attorney, Andrew Radding, disagreed: “It was a firing. They tend to use other words. … They have tried to appear as if they restructured the agency, but there were no real changes.”

The court issued the ruling about an hour after the hearing ended.

Four of PSC’s five commissioners, including Mr. Schisler, were appointed by Mr. Ehrlich. One commissioner was appointed by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

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