By Sarah Hoye and Tom Lobianco
ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Robert Ehrlich told black lawmakers and the NAACP Thursday that the decade-old racial profiling lawsuit could be signed in 30 days after several points in the settlement are clarified.
Ehrlich is seeking clarification on elements of a consent decree between Robert L. Wilkins, the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches and the Maryland State Police. He would not say what those elements were.
“(Ehrlich) is making extraordinary efforts. There are at least 5 to 15 points in the agreement that the governor does not agree with,” said Sen. Lisa Gladden, D-Baltimore. “Within the month we’re going to have an agreement.”
Ehrlich will be meeting with his legal staff to redraft language in the decree and with a federal magistrate to make sure all of the racial profiling issues are addressed, Gladden said.
“Everyone was smiling when we left the room,” said Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, one of a group of lawmakers and executive legal staff at the meeting. “This effort is in fast motion and I think that both sides realize that we were able to accomplish a lot in a short period of time.”
The agreement has been stalled since early January, when incoming Gov. Ehrlich asked the Board of Public Works to delay the issue until he could review it. Since then, some lawmakers and civil rights groups have been pushing to get it back on the board’s agenda for approval.
Ehrlich, Steele and Jervis Finney, the governor’s legal counsel, met with the NAACP earlier in the afternoon. The administration then met with Baltimore Democrats Gladden, Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Delegate Shirley Nathan-Pulliam and Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, and Maryland State Police Superintendent-designee Edward T. Norris.
The one-and-a-half-hour meeting went fairly well, but “for a short period of time it got tense” over the confirmation of Norris, Nathan-Pulliam said. Lawmakers had blocked Norris’ confirmation in an effort to force approval for the racial profiling deal.
The settlement was in response to a 1992 incident in which State Police pulled over black defense lawyer Robert L. Wilkins. Wilkins, who refused a police search of his car while driving in Cumberland, filed the initial suit which sparked a 10-year legal battle with the State Police.
“It’s growing faster than (Ehrlich) can stop,” said Edythe Flemings Hall, president of the Maryland NAACP Branches. “We wanted to make sure there was a definite time period that we could work with him and we are looking forward to announce to the press and the public that we signed an agreement and we look forward to making sure racial profiling is behind us.”
The NAACP left the meeting positive that they had Ehrlich’s commitment to the decree.
“He is for signing that. We came out of the meeting very happy with his position,” said Elbridge James, chairman of the Political Action Committee of the Maryland NAACP Branches. “We believe (meeting) will bring something able to be signed by the Board of Public Works.”