ANNAPOLIS- While Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran contemplates running for a sixth consecutive term, his son-in-law, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, has just embarked on a campaign to oust the state’s incumbent governor. The close relationship between the two Democratic politicians has a top aide to the Republican governor questioning whether Curran’s office can be impartial in its rulings.
In a letter to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, Jervis S. Finney, chief legal counsel to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said his office has become overburdened because, as he put it, “the Attorney General’s Office represents your (Democratic) majority leadership, surely not the Administration.”
Finney cited several issues where he said the administration and the attorney general’s office have clashed – including Curran’s criticism of the Maryland Stadium Authority hiring private attorneys without following state guidelines.
Despite what he writes in the letter, Finney said “it was nothing personal.” Finney and Curran served together in the state senate three decades ago.
For his part, the 74-year-old Curran, first elected attorney general in 1986, says he has “no idea” what Finney could be talking about.
“Several times I have had the chance to meet with the governor. He is always gracious and complimentary to me,” Curran said. “We are trying very hard to do the best we can for all Maryland agencies.”
The attorney general is a statewide elected official and heads the office tasked with providing legal advice and representation to most state agencies. When these state agencies take on politically-sensitive issues, the fact that the attorney general and the governor are of different parties becomes a larger issue than it normally is.
So far, Ehrlich has been careful about raising the matter. “The only thing the administration has asked for is fairness, to be treated like any other client the attorney general represents Republican or Democrat,” said Shareese N. DeLeaver, the governor’s spokeswoman.
But Maryland Republican officials are showing less reluctance about taking on the issue.
“The question needs to be raised about the attorney general’s willingness to properly represent the administration and the state,” said Audra Miller, spokeswoman for the state GOP. “His actions suggest he is more inclined to partisanship rather than being the chief legal officer of the state.”
The attorney general being O’Malley’s father-in-law, she said, “does raise questions of conflict both political and personal.”
O’Malley is married to Curran’s daughter, Baltimore District Judge Catherine Curran O’Malley. The two originally met while she was working on her father’s first campaign for attorney general in 1986.
Curran said the office is not influenced by who is governor.
“No matter who is governor the attorney general’s office upholds Maryland law and Maryland constitution. No matter who is governor whether it is Gov. Ehrlich or Gov. Schaefer or Gov. Glendening or Gov. Duncan or Gov. O’Malley,” he said.
Though Curran is patriarch of one of Baltimore’s most prominent Democratic political dynasties, he is widely respected in Annapolis and has been a state senator from Northeast Baltimore and lieutenant governor.
“One fixed star in the Maryland political constellation is the unshakable integrity of Joe Curran,” said Stephen Sachs, Curran’s predecessor as attorney general. And Matthew Crenson, a professor of political science at John Hopkins University, described Curran as “almost politically untouchable.”
Still, Crenson said, the situation facing O’Malley and Curran has never happened before in Maryland politics.
“It is an unusual situation and it has the possibility for a conflict of interest,” he said. “People have the confidence in (Curran) that if there was a conflict of interest the attorney general would recuse himself.”
It is possible Curran will decide not to run for re-election. “The election is still a year away,” he said. “My time is best spent doing my job and not worrying about reelection.”
If he decides to retire, there will be no shortage of Maryland Democrats lining up to succeed him.
Glenn Ivey, the state’s attorney for Prince George’s County, is considering running for attorney general, but only if Curran does not seek reelection. Likewise, Montgomery County Council President Thomas E. Perez said he might run, but again, only if Curran retires. “I think anybody that tries to impugn Joe Curran’s integrity doesn’t know him,” Perez said calling the suggestion that partisanship might poison the attorney general’s impartiality a “cheap shot.”