ANNAPOLIS – A senator trying to settle a racial profiling lawsuit blocked confirmation of the Maryland State Police Superintendent Tuesday, and now says the governor may sign off on the agreement as early as Thursday.
Members of the Legislative Black Caucus will meet with Gov. Robert Ehrlich Thursday to discuss the settlement, said Sen. Lisa Gladden, D-Baltimore, who pushed to delay Edward Norris’ confirmation.
“I am confident that something is going to happen on Thursday,” Gladden said. “Otherwise we’re going to be back here on Friday” asking to delay Norris’ confirmation.
Ehrlich will resolve the issue soon, said spokesman Henry Fawell, although he would not give a specific time.
“The risk that the governor runs by not signing off on this agreement is not that (Edward Norris) will not be the commissioner of the State Police, the risk is the state will get sued,” Gladden said. “It’s about the governor (recognizing) that he runs the risk of a major, multi-million dollar lawsuit, as opposed to a $325,000 agreement.”
A settlement would end a decade-old lawsuit, brought by the Maryland branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People against the state. The suit stemmed from a 1992 incident in which State Police pulled over black defense lawyer Robert Wilkins. The lawsuit cited police documents that pointed to a systemic practice of racial profiling.
The settlement would avert a costly lawsuit, but opponents, including Norris, have delayed a vote from the Board of Public Works, which must sign off on the settlement.
The Senate pushed Norris’ vote to Friday, although Gladden initially asked it be pushed to Feb. 20, one day after the Board of Public Works’ next meeting.
The board consists of Ehrlich, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy Kopp.
Kopp supports the settlement, Schaefer opposes it and Ehrlich said he wanted to review and modify it.
Approval was expected in January, while former Gov. Parris N. Glendening still sat on the board, but was delayed at the request of then Gov.-elect Ehrlich. Ehrlich said he had concerns about the composition of the police- citizen oversight panel, called for in the settlement, and has pushed back a decision indefinitely.
The panel would consist of 15 members: five chosen by the NAACP, five chosen by the State Police and five chosen by a third person, who, in turn, would be selected by the NAACP and the State Police.
Ehrlich mistakenly disputed including five people picked by the American Civil Liberties Union, something that was never written in the settlement, said ACLU lawyer Reginald Shuford.
Members of the black caucus have pushed Ehrlich for a resolution in the past week.
“The governor should have his corrections for us,” Gladden said. “If we’re all on the same page then we can just move along.”
Some senators said delaying the vote on the state’s top law enforcement officer was unwise.
“This is, indeed, the 11th hour,” said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Harford.
It’s bad timing to delay a vote on the state’s top law enforcement officer, said Sen. Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, even though he supported delaying Norris’ confirmation. With the heightened national terror alert issued Friday, the state needs someone in charge of security.
“We’re holding up the chief security officer,” Harris said.
Norris needs more time to look at the settlement because he will be the one to implement it, said State Police spokesman Maj. Greg Shipley. Norris “is committed to resolving this, he has simply asked for more time to review it,” Shipley said.
When Norris is confirmed isn’t quite as urgent, however, said Sen. Barbara Hollinger, D-Baltimore.
“The State Police is operating; the designee is carrying on as if he has been confirmed — which we expect him to be,” Hollinger said. “I don’t expect that it would affect any of the security in the state.” – 30 – CNS-2-11-03