Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is questioning state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.’s impartiality in representing the administration since his son-in-law is running for governor.

“It is not more of a concern, it has been a concern,” said Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican.

Mr. Curran has been a fixture of state Democratic politics for four decades and also is the father-in-law of Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, the Democratic front-runner in the governor’s race.

The situation has Mr. Ehrlich and some close advisers doubting Mr. Curran’s commitment to defending the administration — the state’s first Republican administration since Gov. Spiro T. Agnew left office in 1968.

Among their concerns is whether Mr. Curran has remained impartial in advising state lawmakers probing the Ehrlich administration’s firings of government workers.

The governor’s chief counsel, Jervis S. Finney, raised the issue in a letter Thursday to state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

“The Attorney General’s Office represent your majority legislative leadership, surely not the administration,” Mr. Finney wrote.

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said Mr. Curran, 74, was unaware of the concerns.

“Attorney General Curran has taken an oath to uphold and defend Maryland law at all times,” said spokesman Kevin J. Enright. “Governor Ehrlich has never once told Attorney General Curran he questions his impartiality.”

Mr. Miller, a Democrat representing Calvert and Prince George’s counties, did not return a call seeking comment.

Mr. O’Malley declined to comment.

Mr. Finney also criticized the attorney general for accusing the Maryland Stadium Authority of unlawfully hiring outside lawyers to prepare for possible litigation against Major League Baseball for bringing the Nationals to the District.

The accusations by Mr. Curran’s office also had political overtones, since the stadium authority had hired the Baltimore law firm of William H. Murphy Jr., an influential supporter of Mr. Ehrlich.

Mr. Ehrlich said that dealing with Mr. Curran has “not been a positive experience,” particularly with the Baltimore Sun lawsuit, in which the newspaper accused the governor of unconstitutionally barring officials from granting interviews to two reporters.

A federal judge dismissed the suit in February. The newspaper appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

The governor did not elaborate on what Mr. Curran had done.

However, it is no secret that Mr. Ehrlich is upset because Mr. Curran denied the governor’s request to hand pick a lawyer to help fight the suit.

Maryland Democratic Party Executive Director Josh White said Mr. Curran was the “epitome of integrity and public service.” He said Mr. Ehrlich raised the conflict-of-interest issue because he is intimidated by Mr. Curran.

“The people of Maryland will always side with Joe Curran over Bob Ehrlich in matters of honesty and integrity,” he said.

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