- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008

ANNAPOLIS — A low-level state employee is to blame for a disparity in state records that has led to a lawsuit seeking to invalidate billions of dollars in tax increases passed in the recent special General Assembly session, spokeswomen for the Democrat-controlled Assembly said yesterday.

An assistant clerk to Mary Monahan wrote a letter on Nov. 12 but dated it Nov. 9, while seeking to validate the actions of the Senate during the special session, said Alexandra Hughes, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Lisa Fulton, a spokeswoman for Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

They made the statements as the clerk at the center of the suit gave her deposition.

“In retrospect, there’s still some ambiguity about the best way to capture proceedings like this,” Miss Hughes said.

Neither Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, nor Mr. Miller, Southern Maryland Democrat, have spoken face to face with reporters about the suit filed in a Carroll Court by leading Republican lawmakers. Arguments in the case are scheduled for tomorrow.

Sources identified the assistant clerk as Colleen A. Cassidy and dismissed the error as common in “clerk world.”

However, Irwin R. Kramer, the lawyer who filed the suit, said the letter is a “complete fabrication.”

“Now we’re talking about a gross disregard not only for the Maryland Constitution, but for common-sense rules of ethics that we expect our legislators and those who work with them to uphold,” he said.The state constitution bars the Senate or House from adjourning for more than three days without the consent of the opposite chamber. The Senate adjourned for five days in the middle of the special session, although a judge has yet to determine whether it received proper consent.

That consent is critical to validating the three-week-long session, which resulted in a $1.3 billion tax increases and a measure on the 2008 ballot to legalize slot machines.

The suit argues the Senate never received proper constitutional consent to adjourn for more than three days.

Miss Hughes said Mr. Busch and Mr. Miller consented to adjourning for more than three days through an exchange of phone calls between staffs Nov. 12.

But Mr. Kramer said Mr. Busch does not have the sole power to grant the consent of the 141-member House.

The suit, though, has quickly turned less on whether the Senate received proper consent to adjourn, but on whether a House staffer fabricated documents in the process of showing consent.

Mr. Kramer said Mrs. Monahan, a key witness in the suit and Mrs. Cassidy’s boss, confirmed during a four-hour deposition yesterday that the document was never sent from the Senate on Nov. 9.

Mrs. Monahan, the clerk responsible for recording and validating House proceedings, has been bounced between attorneys and multiple Maryland courts since the case was filed on Dec. 13.

The state’s highest court Monday dismissed a motion by Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler to block Mrs. Monahan’s testimony, joining two lower courts that said she could not be stopped from testifying because of “legislative privilege.”

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