- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Delegate Tiffany T. Alston could be removed from office because she was convicted Tuesday of charges of using $800 in state funds to pay an employee at her law firm.

A jury in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court found Ms. Alston, Prince George’s Democrat, guilty of misdemeanor charges of theft and misconduct in office after deliberating much of Monday afternoon and for about an hour Tuesday morning.

Prosecutors say that Ms. Alston paid an employee at her Lanham law office with money for a no-show $100-a-day legislative job because her firm was failing and short on funds.

“Elected officials are entrusted with public resources and they are not for personal use,” state prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt told reporters after the verdict.

The trial ended after a week of proceedings where prosecutors depicted Ms. Alston as deceitful and desperate. Defense attorneys contended she did nothing wrong and was being targeted because of her opposition to Democratic leaders on issues like the state’s redrawn congressional map.

Attorneys for Ms. Alston unsuccessfully argued that the employee in question worked legitimately as a legislative aide, but did so from a district office located at the law office rather than from Annapolis.

Circuit Court Judge Paul F. Harris Jr. has not scheduled a sentencing date. Attorneys for Ms. Alston say they plan to appeal.

“This is not a settled matter,” said defense attorney Raouf Abdullah.

Tuesday’s misdemeanor theft charge against Ms. Alston is punishable by a maximum 18 months in prison. Misconduct in office is punishable by any sentence deemed not to be cruel and unusual, according to state law.

According to the state constitution, any elected official convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor “related to his public duties and responsibilities and involves moral turpitude for which the penalty may be incarceration” is automatically suspended without pay after sentencing.

A temporary replacement is appointed by the governor, and the official is removed from office after the conviction becomes final through the appeals process.

The General Assembly passed a bill this year that would remove officials from office immediately after their conviction, but it must be approved by voters this fall in a referendum.

The bill was proposed after multiple officials - most notably former Prince George’s County Council member Leslie Johnson last year - were convicted of crimes but attempted to stay in office until their sentencing.

While the conviction could eventually spell the end of Ms. Alston’s political career, her legal troubles are far from over.

This fall, she is scheduled to face charges including felony theft over allegations that she used $3,560 in campaign funds to pay for her wedding, withdrew $1,250 more for other personal expenses and used $660 to pay a law firm employee.

The state’s Attorney Grievance Commission is also pushing the state Court of Appeals to suspend her law license over allegations of improper conduct including failing to appear for a client’s court date.

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