- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — An administrative judge has reinstated a former state employee fired after he publicly criticized an Eastern Shore land purchase approved by Gov. Martin O’Malley.

An attorney for Nelson Reichart, the former assistant secretary for real estate in the Maryland General Services Department, said yesterday that the judge ordered the O’Malley administration to return her client to his job with back pay and benefits while he challenges the firing in court.

Reached by phone yesterday, Kate Masterton said Mr. Reichart was “ready, willing and able to return to the office.”

“We would like to do it an orderly fashion, and have requested instructions from the state,” she said.

An assistant attorney general said state officials are still reviewing the judge’s order, which was dated Sept. 26 but not issued until Wednesday.

Mr. Reichart sued the state on Aug. 29, asking for his job back.

State officials said they had until Oct. 16 to file a response to the suit.

“It appears the order was granted prematurely, because it was before the state’s response to the motion was due,” Assistant Attorney General Will Brockman said.

Mrs. Masterton said she hopes her efforts to settle with the state are advanced by the judge’s order.

Mr. Reichart was fired in June, after a news report in which he was quoted saying the state paid $1 million more than it should have for the 271-acre parcel known as the Kudner property in Queen Anne’s County. The land, earmarked for preservation, was bought for $5 million — a price that exceeded two state appraisals of its value.

David Sutherland, the owner of the parcel, was a member of the O’Malley transition team and the purchase also was authorized by Department of Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin, who had done consulting work on the property.

State officials denied wrongdoing in the purchase, saying it was a worthy use of state preservation dollars.

But purchasing officials recently delayed payment for another plot of land on the northern tip of Kent Island just a few miles from the Kudner property because of concerns about environmental waste. That transaction was halted after the state’s Board of Public Works approved the purchase.

In his lawsuit, Mr. Reichart said his dismissal was politically motivated. The 29-year state employee is a Republican serving in a Democratic administration.

Mr. Reichart is the second state employee whose termination by the O’Malley adminstration was rebuked by an administrative judge.

Judge Susan A. Sinrod ruled in June that the O’Malley administration illegally fired Greg Maddalone, a Republican who was appointed by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Mr. Maddalone was the focus of a special investigation into the Ehrlich administration’s hiring and firing practices and was recently ordered to testify before a now-defunct special legislative committee.

Democratic lawmakers in 2005 accused the Ehrlich administration of illegally firing thousands of state workers because of their ties to previous Democratic governors.

After the Democrat-controlled General Assembly spent 13 months and $1.1 million of public funds to investigate the charges, Mr. Ehrlich was found to not have fired anyone illegally.

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