May 13, 2011

State rethinks youth jail, revisiting campaign issue

State prison officials now believe they overestimated the necessary capacity of a planned jail for teenagers who face charges as adults.

A study released yesterday by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency concludes the city needs about half the size of what was originally to be a 230-bed facility, Sun colleagues Liz Kay and June Torbati report this morning.

The youth lockup became a campaign trail issue last year for Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Both had a hand in planning the jail.

Just as officials prepared to break ground, juvenile services activists loudly protested, saying Baltimore needs more youth programs, not more jails. O'Malley agreed to the study that came out yesterday. The lower capacity reflects a downward trend in teen arrests.

Continue reading "State rethinks youth jail, revisiting campaign issue" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:40 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Administration, Crime & Justice, Law and Courts

March 8, 2011

Dutch proposes limits on funeral protests

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger on Tuesday provided more details of his bill to limit protests at military funerals.

The Baltimore County Democrat is introducing the “Safe Haven for Heroes Act” in response to the Supreme Court ruling last week upholding the right of the Westboro Baptist “Church” to protest America’s supposed tolerance of homosexuality at memorial services for fallen troops.

The legislation would prohibit protests for the 5 hours preceding a military funeral and the 5 hours after. Protests before or after those limits could be held no closer than 2,500 feet from the funeral facility.

“I believe the Constitution allows for reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of protest activities,” Ruppersberger said in a statement. “This bill enables groups like Westboro to exercise their right to free speech without disrupting the funerals themselves or forcing funeral participants to encounter the protesters.”

The Supreme Court case stemmed from the group’s crude demonstration outside the Westminster funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder in 2006.

Continue reading "Dutch proposes limits on funeral protests" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:12 PM | | Comments (15)

February 9, 2011

With ruling, panel to seek new slots bidders for city

A judge has cleared the way for the state slots commission to seek proposals for companies to build and manage the casino approved for Baltimore.

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge John Phillip Miller ruled that a Canadian developer had no claim on the land off of Russell Street that the city selected as a site for the slots parlor.

The Baltimore City Entertainment Group, led by Toronto developer Michael Moldenhauer, had sought $100 million in damages after the city revoked the group’s right to develop the property. The city, which cut ties with Moldenhauer after the state commission rejected his group’s application for a slots license, had asked the judge to end the deal.

Moldenhauer’s group was the only applicant for a the Baltimore slots license.

While Miller did not grant the city's request to dismiss the group’s lawsuit in its entirety, he granted several of the city's motions, and ruled that “the City is, and remains, the only titleholder to the real property.”

The city is “free and clear from any claims by BCEG under its contracts” and “there exists no cloud upon the title of the property,” Miller wrote in his opinion this week.

The Baltimore City Entertainment Group characterized the ruling as a victory, because Miller is allowing the case to proceed to the discovery process.

“We are very pleased with this ruling,” Moldenhauer said in a statement. “We are confident that our breach of contract suit as it goes forward will show that the city needs to let us build our project.”

Continue reading "With ruling, panel to seek new slots bidders for city" »

Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:36 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: City Hall, Law and Courts, Slots

January 18, 2011

Sex offender registry still not in federal compliance

Despite major efforts last year by Maryland lawmakers to get tough on sex offenders and expand the offender registry, the state still is not in compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act, a public safety official told senators today.

Noncompliance could cost the state more than half a million dollars in federal grant money for law enforcement agencies.

In the wake of the December 2009 killing of an 11-year-old Eastern Shore girl who'd been in contact with a registered sex offender, lawmakers last year made reform of the part of the criminal code a priority. Gov. Martin O'Malley pushed a package of bills that included revamping the registry -- a move that lawmakers believed would bring them into compliance with the Adam Walsh Act.

Changes included adding the names of those who commit sexually motivated acts of indecent exposure or possess child pornography and requiring people who list themselves as "homeless" to provide more information about where they are living. The registry includes nearly 7,000 people now.

The problem, said David P. Wolinski, who administers the registry, is that Maryland does not require lifetime registration of juveniles convicted of the most serious sex crimes, a necessity under the Adam Walsh Act.

Continue reading "Sex offender registry still not in federal compliance" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:25 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Crime & Justice, Law and Courts

Court rejects Md. challenge to D.C. marriage law

The Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal of a Maryland pastor and others seeking to overturn the District of Columbia's same-sex marriage law.

Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, has led the lawsuit against the district's elections board for rejecting a ballot measure defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman on the District of Columbia ballot.

The Supreme Court turned away the appeal on Tuesday without comment. Washington began recognizing sane-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions in 2009, and began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples last year.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:56 PM | | Comments (2)

December 17, 2010

Investigators raid home of Ehrlich robocaller

Investigators for the state prosecutor on Friday raided the home and office of Julius Henson, the political operative who ordered the controversial Election Day robocalls for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Emmet C. Davitt, Maryland’s new state prosecutor, declined to comment on the raid. Neither Henson nor his lawyer could be reached for comment Friday.

WBAL-TV, which broke the news of the morning raid, aired footage showing investigators carrying boxes away from Henson's home from an early morning raid.

Henson, a Democratic operative who was working this year for the Republican Ehrlich, ordered more than 112,000 robocalls before the polls closed on Election Day last month.

The calls focused on Democratic precincts in Baltimore and Prince George’s County. The recorded message featured a female voice suggesting that Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley had already won the election and encouraging supporters to stay home.

The woman told voters to “relax” because “Governor O'Malley and President Obama have been successful.… Everything is fine. The only thing left is to watch on TV tonight.”

Nobody answered the door Friday at Henson’s home on Decker Street. There was also nobody answering Friday afternoon at his office on North Charles Street.

Henson has acknowledged orchestrating the calls. He told The Baltimore Sun last month that the message was meant to encourage turnout.

“We believe the call was made for voters in Baltimore City who were not going to go to the polls, to go to the polls and vote,” Henson said in early November. “It never said, ‘Don't vote.’ ”

Henson said Ehrlich “probably” did not know about the calls. Ehrlich’s campaign paid Henson $111,000 for “community outreach.”

Ehrlich told the Annapolis Capital last week that the calls were “done outside of my purview.” When news of the calls broke on Election Night, an Ehrlich spokesman called them “absolutely irresponsible.”

Continue reading "Investigators raid home of Ehrlich robocaller" »

December 16, 2010

Update: Birther colonel gets six months

Sun colleague Andrea Siegel reports:

An Army doctor convicted of disobeying orders to deploy to Afghanistan because he questioned whether Barack Obama was eligible to be president was sentenced today to six months in a military prison.

He also will be dismissed from the military, meaning he will forfeit a nearly $90,000 annual salary and a pension.

In closing arguments at the court-martial at Ft. George G. Meade, government prosecutors said Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin had created "a spectacle that has embarrassed the Army" with his website and YouTube video. In both, Lakin said he wouldn't deploy until his questions about whether the president is a natural born U.S. citizen were answered.

Capt. Philip J. O'Beirne asked the eight-member panel to sentence Lakin to between 24 and 36 months in a military jail and dismiss him from the army after almost 18 years of service. The maximum sentence was reduced from 3 1/2 years to 3 years this morning.

Lakin's civilian lawyer argued against jail time.

"Does the Army or society need protection against Dr. Lakin?" attorney Neal Puckett asked the panel.

He suggested that the panel "make [Lakin] work his debt off" and reprimand Lakin.

He described his client as obsessed and remorseful, and said he had followed bad advice from an outside lawyer on pushing his issue within the army.

Continue reading "Update: Birther colonel gets six months" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:10 PM | | Comments (17)

December 14, 2010

Army Lt. Col., 'birther,' on trial for refusing to deploy

Sun colleague Childs Walker reports:

Terrence Lakin is one of the fervent band of Americans who doubt that President Barack Obama was born in the United States.

The catch is that Lakin is an Army lieutenant colonel who refused to report for deployment to Afghanistan because he questions Obama’s credentials to serve as commander in chief.

Lakin, a flight surgeon, pleaded guilty before a military court at Fort Meade on Tuesday to a charge that included not meeting with a superior when ordered to do so and not reporting to duty at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. The 18-year veteran faces up to 18 months in prison and dismissal from the Army.

Lakin pleaded not guilty to a second charge of missing a flight he was required to be on, and the court-martial proceeding continued on that count. If convicted of all the charges against him, the Colorado native could face more than three and a half years in prison.

In videos posted on YouTube, Lakin said he had “no choice” but to disobey orders. Lakin said he would deploy if Obama's original birth certificate were released and proved authentic.

Lakin’s stance, made public when he refused to report in April, has made him a hero to the “birther” movement. Birthers say Obama, the first African-American president, was not born in Honolulu in August 1961, and so fails to meet the constitutional requirement that the president be a “natural born citizen.”

Continue reading "Army Lt. Col., 'birther,' on trial for refusing to deploy" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 6:04 PM | | Comments (6)

November 13, 2010

Corruption accusations in gorgeous Prince George's

Federal agents who pounded on the door of Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson's Mitchellville Friday morning seem to have prompted a drama that is so far overtaking their four year corruption case.

The county exec wasn't home, but his wife Leslie (who in September handily beat a field of five other primary candidates for a county council seat) heard the knock, saw two women at the door and made a brief phone call to her husband that her lawyers will likely spend weeks, if not months, trying to suppress.

The conversation, taped by the FBI, includes Jack Johnson suggesting that his wife flush what the feds assumed to be a $100,000 check from a developer down the toilet. While too early to know how the call will affect the case, it had the immediate impact of making famous yet another plumber. This time it was Steve Willsey, who was called to search the Johnsons' pipes for evidence.

The Post reported that he inspected the Johnsons' toilets, but had not found anything Friday afternoon.

The detail that peaked the most interest was Jack Johnson's apparent suggestion that his wife stuff tens of thousands of dollars in her bra. According to court papers, the couple had a frantic discussion about cash in the home and Johnson said: "Put it in your bra and walk out or something, I don't know what to do." She later told him: "I have it in my bra," according to court papers.

The FBI reported that they "recovered" $79,600 from "her underwear." No details about the denominations of the bills have been made public, though The Post's Martin Weil estimated just how much padding that size a wad of cash would create.

Leslie Johnson's apparent miracle bra made us wonder if political wives being ignored by the billion-dollar lingerie market. Possible slogans for a corruption line of underwear: "When he wants you to cover up more than just your chest ..." or "An underwire that is a wire."

With the feds promising more charges in days to come, we imagine the focus will snap back to the underlying pay-to-play corruption investigation.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:01 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Law and Courts

October 30, 2010

State ordered to extend overseas ballot deadline

A federal judge has ordered the State of Maryland to extend the deadline for accepting overseas ballots by 10 days, the Associated Press reports.

Judge Roger Titus issued an order Friday extending the deadline from Nov. 12 to Nov. 22.

The judge ruled on a lawsuit against the state Board of Elections by a member of the Maryland National Guard who said overseas voters have not been given enough time to obtain and return ballots for next week's election.

The guardsman, identified in court papers as Officer John Doe, and the Washington-based Military Voter Protection Project alleged that officials mailed overseas ballots listing candidates for federal office only by the deadline set in a new federal law designed to protect military voters.
They say this prevents them from voting for state office candidates, including governor.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (1)

October 28, 2010

Rest in Peace, Cousin Dupree

DJ Mark Bishop will play Steely Dan's "Cousin Dupree" next Wednesday night at Castaways, as he has pretty much every Wednesday since 1995, when Circuit Judge John Prevas got hooked on karaoke at a law clerk's going-away party.

And then, nevermore.

"We're going to get up one last time at Castaways and sing 'Cousin Dupree,'" Bishop told me. "We are going to officially retire the song. That song will never be played again in Castaways karaoke, or in my show, period, no matter where I go. Just like baseball when you retire a number. We're going to retire that number."

Bishop is planning a memorial for Prevas, who died Monday of a heart attack at the age of 63. It will take place at 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Canton bar where the judge was known for singing and to his favorites. (The performances live on, on YouTube, under "Castaways karaoke." -- and on our blog.)

Continue reading "Rest in Peace, Cousin Dupree" »

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 2:33 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Law and Courts

October 6, 2010

After plea, Holton traveling to Fla. on city's dime

The Baltimore Sun's Julie Scharper reports:

Baltimore City Councilwoman Helen Holton, who pleaded no contest this week to a campaign finance violation, will attend a three-day conference in Palm Beach, Fla., next week at the city’s expense.

The city spending board voted Wednesday to approve the $1,100 trip for Holton, who will be attending the National Association of Counties conference in Palm Beach from October 13 to 15.

Holton pleaded no contest on Monday to a misdemeanor stemming from a deal she struck with developer Ronald Lipscomb and bread magnate and developer John Paterakis Sr.

Holton asked the two to pay $12,500 for a poll during her 2007 re-election campaign, circumventing campaign finance regulations and exceeding the $4,000 cap on donations from individuals during an election cycle.

A related and more serious bribery charge remains tied up in an appeal to the Court of Appeals.
Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who presides over the five-member Board of Estimates, abstained from the vote. His spokesman said Young normally abstains from votes involving the council members.

Spokesman Lester J. Davis said the trip was planned long before the plea deal was announced and that Young, who serves as leader of the council, “did not have a role in picking who went on this trip.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake voted in favor of the expenditure. Asked if Holton’s trip should be approved after her plea, Rawlings-Blake said “I don’t think the two are related.”

Continue reading "After plea, Holton traveling to Fla. on city's dime" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:54 PM | | Comments (27)

September 7, 2010

Currie gets a court date

State Sen. Ulysses Currie, indicted by a federal grand jury last week on corruption charges, is set to make his first court appearance at a hearing Sept. 17, Baltimore Sun colleague Annie Linskey reports. The Prince George’s County Democrat is expected to plead not guilty.

Currie is alleged to have accepted $245,000 in payments from Shoppers Food Warehouse in exchange for his help removing state bureaucratic hurdles. He stepped down from his position as chair of the senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee after the indictment was announced.

Currie’s attorney, Dale Kelberman, describes his arrangement with Shoppers as a consulting position similar to the outside employment many of the state’s legislators hold during the nine months that the General Assembly does not meet. The supermarket chain is headquartered in Currie’s district.

Two former executives from the chain also were indicted last week. Former president William White is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 17. Former vice president for real estate R. Kevin Small has not yet been assigned a court date.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 6:33 PM | | Comments (1)

August 7, 2010

Jessamy says Bealefeld fuels distrust

Baltimore's top prosecutor has accused the city's police commissioner of using the power of his badge to help her opponent in next month's primary, Baltimore Sun colleague Peter Hermann reports.

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said in a statement last week that Frederick H. Bealefeld III has broken years of precedent with "overt actions … to influence the outcome of an election" — which she warned "can only lead to divisiveness and distrust in the community."

Jessamy said it was "unprecedented and inappropriate" for the city's top police officer to put a campaign sign on his lawn. Her campaign spokeswoman, meanwhile, said staff members have learned that Bealefeld, while in uniform, "approached some citizens, recruiting volunteers" for Gregg Bernstein's campaign.

Spokeswoman Marilyn Harris-Davis said Bealefeld asked city resident Billy Taylor, a Jessamy supporter, to meet with Bernstein.

Bealefeld's spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, denied that the commissioner made any such requests while on duty. He confirmed that Bealefeld spoke with Taylor at an event but said that Bealefeld did not try to influence his vote or recruit him as a campaign worker. He said Bealefeld spoke with Taylor about Bernstein in detail only when he was off-duty.

Taylor, who supports Jessamy, said he met with Bernstein for lunch. "I don't know about if it's appropriate," he said. Of Bealefeld, he said, "We're friends, and he asked me to do that and so I did it."

Read more about Jessamy and Bealefeld at

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (2)

July 29, 2010

O'Malley praises Jessamy, no endorsement

During an appearance in West Baltimore Thursday to announce $7 million in public safety funding grants, Gov. Martin O'Malley was asked whether he would be endorsing anyone in the city's upcoming state's attorney's race.

O'Malley stopped short of endorsing incumbent Patricia Jessamy, Baltimore Sun colleague Justin Fenton reports, but offered what sounded like high praise for her, saying their "partnership has never been stronger," that they talk every day, and that her "leadership and performance" has been a big part of crime declines in Baltimore. Specifically pressed if he would endorse her, he replied: "I anticipate - yeah, stayed tuned." Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown also appeared at her birthday fundraiser over the weekend, according to reports.

That's particular notable, as friction between O'Malley and Jessamy is well-documented, and in one his last acts as mayor he increased her salary dramatically -- 60 percent, or $83,000, to $225,000 -- in what many believed was an attempt to make the position more attractive to potential challengers. When defense attorney Gregg Bernstein announced he would challenge Jessamy in the Democratic primary, Jessamy even accused of O'Malley of putting Bernstein up to it.

Following is a transcript of O'Malley's remarks, which came right after he agreed that Judge John Addison Howard had "dropped the ball" in his handling of suspect John Alexander Wagner:

The Sun: Will you be endorsing anyone in the city state's attorney's race?

O'Malley: We've done a lot of positive things together. I know you all focus on the one case where we disagreed 10 or 11 years ago. but the fact of the matter is, the partnerships between the state and the state’s attorneys office have never been stronger. I have endorsed every Democrat in our state who has endorsed me. That's been our policy, and there’s been a lot of progress made in the city of Baltimore in the last 10 years. Notwithstanding some occasional disagreements, the fact of the matter is Baltimore has achieved the third largest reduction of violent crime of any major city in America. That headline has never made a headline, but its a fact. And the partnerships with the state’s attorney, the higher level of functioning especially with the war room, and the cooperation and collaboration with the Violence Prevention Initiative, you know, underscores all of those things.

We continue to talk, and I believe the state's attorney's office led by Mrs. Jessamy has had a significant part in saving lives over these past years. It would fly in the face of the facts to say it hasn't.

The Sun: So are you endorsing Jessamy?

Continue reading "O'Malley praises Jessamy, no endorsement" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:30 PM | | Comments (2)

July 22, 2010

Gansler wins reelection, by default

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler is Maryland's first winner of the 2010 elections.

The first-term Democrat won four more years in office Wednesday when the the deadline for parties to name challengers passed without Republicans finding an opponent to take him on.

"I'm flattered that people in the state of Maryland think we're doing a good job," Gansler told Baltimore Sun colleague Annie Linskey.

The failure of the GOP to field a candidate was striking, given Gansler's vocal support for gay marriage, a position which has put him to the left of many Maryland Democrats.

Maryland Republican Party Chairwoman Audrey Scott told Linskey Gansler is "one lucky guy." Scott said she'd hoped to put up a challenger. One candidate changed his mind, she said. Another appeared at the last minute, but party paperwork prevented her from being able to put his name forward, she said.

She would not give names. "We ran out of time," she said. She predicted that there would be more interest in four years.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, Law and Courts, People

July 20, 2010

High court: Arundel slots referendum is legal

Just hours after hearing arguments, Maryland's highest court ruled Tuesday that a referendum on whether to allow slots at the Arundel Mills mall can move forward, Baltimore Sun colleague Nicole Fuller reports.

The Court of Appeals issued the ruling after justices asking pointed questions about the reasoning behind a lower court ruling that blocked the referendum.

Circuit Court Judge Ronald A. Silkworth had ruled last month that the referendum was illegal because the zoning legislation to authorize a subsidiary of the Baltimore-based Cordish Companies to build a billion-dollar casino is part of an appropriation package. According to state law, appropriations — or spending allowances — cannot be decided by voters at the ballot box.

Lawyers for community groups the Maryland Jockey Club, which financed a successful referendum effort to challenge zoning approval for Cordish Cos. to build the state's largest slots casino, appealed the decision to the state's highest court.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has issued a statement supporting "the right for the people of Anne Arundel County to have their voices heard on whether slots should be located at Arundel Mills Shopping Mall."

“I have always preferred that these slots locations be limited to race tracks, but this is a local zoning issue that should be decided by the people of Anne Arundel County, just as Marylanders overwhelmingly approved the slots referendum in 2008," O'Malley said.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:13 PM | | Comments (0)

July 12, 2010

O'Malley and Brewer, protecting America's borders

Gov. Martin O'Malley will co-chair a national panel on homeland security with Arizona Gov. Janice Brewer, the most prominent champion of her border state's controversial new immigration law.

O'Malley, a Democrat, was reappointed Sunday to the committee of the National Governors Association. Brewer, a Republican, will serve a term as his co-chair.

The Arizona law, which takes effect this month, requires police officers to determine the immigration status of a suspect if they have a "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is in the country illegally. Critics say the requirement will lead to racial profiling; supporters say it is a necessary response to the failure of the federal government to secure the borders.

Attorney General Eric Holder filed a federal lawsuit last week seeking to stop the enforcement of the law.

The NGA committee develops policies to illustrate how federal action affects states, Baltimore Sun colleague Liz Kay writes. In the past, the NGA has issued statements on the 2005 Real ID Act, which established national standards on all state-issued identification; on immigration and refugees; and on cybersecurity, support for military families and illegal drug trafficking.

"There are a lot of issues that by necessity should be worked on across the aisle and across state borders," O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec tells Kay. "There are a lot of homeland security issues that are separate from patrolling the borders."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (1)

June 17, 2010

City joins brief against Arizona immigration law

The city of Baltimore has joined a friend-of-the-court brief urging a federal court in Arizona to block enforcement of that state’s controversial new immigration law, Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports.

“The law passed in Arizona offends us and goes against everything that our great nation stands for,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. “Our country has accepted and welcomed immigrants of all colors, nationalities, and ethnic backgrounds because that is what makes us great. Cities like Baltimore were built by generations of immigrants who thirsted for the freedom to build a prosperous life for themselves and their families. We cannot let fear tear down this country’s tradition of inclusion, liberty and justice.”

The city has joined San Francisco, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Seattle in the brief, which argues that Arizona Senate Bill 1070 is “unconstitutional, impractical, costly, and deeply damaging to the relationships of trust law enforcement agencies have built with immigrant communities,” according to a news release from Rawlings-Blake’s office.

“SB 1070 suggests, wrongly, that the enforcement of federal civil immigration law is the proper responsibility of local government officials, and that basic constitutional principles do not apply when those officials are investigating or enforcing immigration law,” the local governments argue. “That message will be heard not just in Arizona, but in every state in the country, making immigrants—whether they are naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, visa holders, or undocumented individuals—distrustful of local government and law enforcement officials.”

The brief was filed Wednesday in a lawsuit by activists who are asking the court to halt enforcement of the law before it goes into effect at the end of July.

Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton introduced a City Council resolution last month criticizing the Arizona law.

Del. Pat McDonough of Harford County, who says he will introduce a bill modeled on the Arizona law in Annapolis next year, called Middleton’s resolution “useless and clueless.”

Continue reading "City joins brief against Arizona immigration law" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:11 PM | | Comments (29)

June 7, 2010

Conaway wants her big signs back

A dispatch from City Hall reporter Julie Scharper:

Belinda Conaway has a reputation for being a bit of a maverick on the Baltimore City Council.

In recent months, she has introduced both a resolution to investigate how police handle routine stops and a bill to create a “drag net” around problem areas. And as chair of the budget committee, she drew flak from police last month when she used a hearing on the department’s budget allocation to submit a laundry list of questions on the racial makeup of command staff.

Today, Conaway is unveiling a piece of legislation that hits close to home. Very close to home.

The councilwoman, whose father, mother and brother are all elected officials and city residents, wants to abolish size restrictions on political campaign signs in residential areas.

“This is what I call the Conaway law,” the councilwoman said at a luncheon work session. “It’s a nitpicky thing against the Conaways.”

The councilwoman, who lives in West Baltimore at an address shared by her parents and brother, said her family “traditionally has had large signs, particularly in the last race.”

Given the tight financial times, it seems foolhardy to waste resources on enforcing campaign sign laws, she said.

But Councilman Robert Curran, who sponsored the bill that limited the size of the signs, said it was not inspired by the Conaway family’s signs, but rather large signs that appeared in his Northeast Baltimore district during the last state delegate race.

Continue reading "Conaway wants her big signs back" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:43 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, City Hall, Law and Courts

June 3, 2010

Police, fire unions sue Baltimore over pensions

Baltimore’s police and fire unions filed a federal lawsuit against the city Thursday afternoon, alleging officials “knowingly underfunded” their pension plan over the past decade, ignoring the advice of financial experts hired by the city, Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports.

The lawsuit marks the beginning of what could be a lengthy and expensive legal battle in the emotionally charged debate on altering retirement benefits paid to public safety officers. If drastic changes are not made to the pension system by July 1, the city will be on the hook for $66 million that it cannot pay.

Union heads, stressing the dangerous and physically-grueling nature of their work, say that pension changes proposed by the city constitute a violation of their contract.

“Some in city government are portraying this as a crisis,” said Bob Sledgeski, firefighters’ union president. “This has been long, ongoing neglect on the part of the city to follow their own experts’ advice. That’s not an accident and ten years does not a crisis make.”

The lawsuit charges that from 2003 to 2008, city financial officials disregarded actuaries’ recommendations to lower an assumed rate of return because it would have forced the city to contribute millions more to the plan.

Read the rest of the story at

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:37 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Crime & Justice, Law and Courts

Gansler stays out in front on gay marriage

It turns out that Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler's controversial opinion that Maryland should recognize same-sex unions performed in other states was only the beginning.

As Julie Bykowicz writes in her profile of the first-term Democrat, Gansler has taken several opportunities since publishing the opinion in February to proclaim that prohibition of gay marriage is "a clear violation of equal protection."

Gansler, who is unopposed, so far, in his bid for reelection, but is believed to be interested in higher office, also likes to point out that no other statewide elected official in Maryland is as vocal in backing same-sex marriage. Fellow Democrats have questioned the wisdom of getting out in front of so liberal a cause in a state that, while blue, is seen as socially moderate.

"If I were his political adviser and I were neutral, I would certainly say, 'Don't make any enemies, enforce the law, try a couple of cases and get your name out,'" said former Sen. Joseph Tydings, whom Gansler considers a mentor. "An attorney general can run for governor without any real record."

Gansler tells Bykowicz it's a matter of principle.

"To me it just seems so wrong that we deny human beings the pursuit of happiness," he said.

Read the rest of the story at

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 7:30 AM | | Comments (0)
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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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