By Sarah Hoye and Tom Lobianco
ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s Board of Public Works Wednesday postponed a vote on a racial profiling settlement at Gov.-elect Robert Ehrlich’s request and to the dismay of the two interest groups that filed the suit.
The board, which approves state spending, deferred voting on the $325,000 settlement for the decade-old lawsuit after Ehrlich appealed to board members Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp. The other member of the board is outgoing Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Kopp called the vote’s timing terrible.
“It came in at the last minute, and it’s inappropriate to rush it through,” Kopp said. “The alternative to this is going back to court and coming out with a settlement not as advantageous as this.”
Ehrlich was pleased with the board’s decision, said his spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver.
Ehrlich wants to “take the opinion of rank-and-file police officers into consideration,” she said.
There is no timetable for the governor-elect’s decision, she said.
Comptroller William Donald Schaefer also supported the last-minute decision to defer the vote.
“I want to know much more information. I am all for deferring this. I-95 was a racetrack for drugs,” he said. “For a change the police should be protected.”
The settlement stemmed from a 1992 incident in which state police pulled over defense lawyer Robert Wilkins. Wilkins, who refused a police search while driving with his family, is concerned that the new governor will ignore the settlement all together.
“I hope that (Ehrlich) will review it in good faith . . . but if the settlement falls apart now, the only option left is to have all of the ugly actions of the state police explored in a public trial,” he said.
At the time state police stopped Wilkins, a mandate instructing officers to target blacks for drug searches remained on the books, providing proof of racial profiling.
The two groups who filed the lawsuit said the postponement was a mistake.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” said Edythe Flemings Hall, president of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP branches.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit, was displeased with the postponement.
“Up until yesterday Maryland stood as a model, and then at the last minute Ehrlich stopped it dead in its tracks,” said Susan Goering, executive director of the ACLU-Maryland. “We were blind-sided.”
The litigation would have ended with a vote in today’s meeting.
Wednesday’s meeting was the last for outgoing Gov. Glendening and his dogged adversary, Schaefer. Contrary their tone in previous meetings, Wednesday’s session was conciliatory.
Glendening and Schaefer exchanged gifts at the beginning of the meeting — to the laughter of lawmakers and others in the audience. Glendening said it with flowers: a yellow rose bouquet for Kopp and a basket of purple violets for Schaefer. Schaefer presented the outgoing governor with a signed photo of himself, which read: “To Parris, best wishes and affection, William Donald Schaefer, mayor, governor and comptroller.” The two top state politicians made news as adversaries in the past. Glendening for accusations that he commissioned his Secretary of State John T. Willis to run against Schaefer in the Democratic primary and Schaefer for his scathing criticism of Glendening’s handling of the state economy. – 30 – CNS-1-8-03