By John O’Connor
ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s highest court decided Tuesday not to open an inquiry into four top Senate Democrats on charges of attempting to influence judges on political redistricting.
Maryland’s Court of Appeals denied a motion to investigate Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, and Sens. Ida G. Ruben, D- Montgomery, Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s and Clarence W. Blount, D- Baltimore, for attempting to influence judges deciding the legality of Maryland’s redistricting plan.
The court justified its denial of the inquiry because a complaint is pending against Miller, who is a lawyer, with the state Attorney Grievance Commission.
Miller was pleased with the decision, which follows a September decision by state prosecutors not to file criminal charges.
“I am quite pleased this matter has been resolved by the court,” he said in a written statement.
“Once again, I am anxious to put this matter behind us.”
The court’s decision was fair, but still leaves some unanswered questions said E. Mark Braden, a Maryland Republican Party attorney.
“We thought this was a matter for the courts,” he said. “It’s also a matter that’s appropriate for the bar association to consider.”
There is contradictory evidence about whether Miller attempted to coerce members of the Senate or judges, Braden said, and the Republicans wanted Miller’s sworn testimony in court.
The suit stemmed from last September’s legal challenge by the state Republican Party of Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s General Assembly redistricting plan.
The Court of Appeals threw out Glendening’s plan in June because it violated the Maryland Constitution. The court redrew district lines itself for the fall election.
Miller and the other Senate members phoned four Court of Appeals judges in May, according to court documents, while a decision was still pending. State Republicans argued in court that contact between senators and judges could unfairly influence the case.
A criminal investigation should be opened, the GOP argued, because the court risked its reputation and the public’s confidence by allowing such behavior. Other legislators could attempt to influence the court if Miller and his colleagues were not punished, Republicans said.
Republicans also cited a 1939 Court of Appeals decision that any party initiating contact with a judge who is hearing a case outside of court constitutes contempt.
The Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics reprimanded Miller and Currie earlier this year for contacting the judges, Braden said, and the Attorney Grievance Commission should investigate those charges as well.
An Attorney Grievance Commission spokesman could not comment on the status of Miller’s case.
The commission has the authority to suspend Miller’s law license or disbar him if they determine his conduct merits such punishment.