- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2008

WESTMINSTER, Md. — A Carroll County Circuit Court judge yesterday heard arguments in a case seeking to overturn billions of dollars in tax increases passed during the recent special session of the General Assembly.

Judge Thomas F. Stansfield said he would issue a written opinion in the case, but offered no timeline for when the opinion may be handed down.

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell and other Republican leaders filed the lawsuit last month seeking to invalidate the tax increases passed during the special session, based on a constitutional clause that allows neither the Senate nor the House to adjourn for more than three days without the other’s consent.

The Senate adjourned for five days in the middle of the session.

Judge Stansfield said during the 2½ hours of arguments yesterday that he would consider a defendant’s motion for summary judgment. He is also considering a plaintiff’s motion for an injunction that would prohibit the state from collecting the increased taxes until a decision is reached.

Assistant Attorney General Austin C. Schlick argued during the hearing that consent to adjourn was given, even if the records reflecting the approval were not properly kept. After the hearing, he reiterated that nothing improper was done on the part of state officials.

But plaintiffs’ attorney Irwin R. Kramer said the faulty record keeping was a sign of a larger contempt for the law.

“There are more important values here: the first is integrity of government and the second is respect for the rule of law,” he said. “What we have here is a premeditated plan to violate the constitution and conceal that evidence.”

The key piece of evidence in the case was the long-sought testimony of House Chief Clerk Mary Monahan, who was deposed Wednesday. The attorney general’s office lost a bid before the state’s highest court, the Maryland Court of Appeals, to bar Mrs. Monahan’s testimony.

Mrs. Monahan said during her deposition that a document requesting adjournment filed in the House journal was “backdated” by an assistant clerk and that she ordered her staff not to alert House members. Mr. Kramer said the fact that the documents were fabricated in the official record of the chamber’s proceedings indicated that lawmakers could not have given their consent to the Senate’s request.

The two sides also debated extensively over what constituted “consent” for adjournment. Lawyers for the state said simple acknowledgement by the House speaker was sufficient. But Mr. Kramer said the speaker could not act on behalf of the entire House of Delegates.

At one point he recited a list of hardships Maryland residents would suffer if the taxes were rolled back.

“This would put our state back in a budget crisis. It would put businesses and employers in a state of chaos,” he said.

Mr. Kramer objected, arguing that courtroom was not the place for policy debates. The judge agreed.

As a result of the package approved during the special session, smokers Tuesday started paying $1 more per pack of cigarettes, while taxes increased for car buyers, corporations and high-wage earners. A penny increase in the state sales tax took effect Thursday.

State and federal courts have routinely overturned proposals from Maryland’s Democratic lawmakers in the past decade.

The Maryland Court of Appeals overturned a legislative redistricting plan submitted in 2002 by then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, stating it violated a constitutional requirement that legislative districts be compact.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Baltimore overturned a bill the Democrat-controlled Assembly passed in 2006 that would have forced Wal-Mart to provide health care benefits to employees in Maryland, stating it violated a federal labor law.

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