ANNAPOLIS-The special committee investigating the personnel practices of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. hired a 60 year-old Baltimore attorney Tuesday to be their outside counsel and to assist them with their investigation.
Ward B. Coe III, a partner with the Baltimore-based law firm of Whiteford, Taylor and Preston L.L.P, was chosen from an applicant pool of 17 candidates to serve as counsel for the special committee. A graduate of Princeton University and the University of Maryland School of Law, Coe was an assistant attorney general in Maryland from 1974 to 1977.
“He has a great deal of experience,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, who noted that Coe had been chief of staff in the investigation of the savings and loan industry in the 1980’s.
Coe’s selection surprisingly received no opposition during Tuesday’s hearing in the sharply divided committee, which has been bogged down with partisan bickering almost from its formation.
Even Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, Worcester and Wicomico, the senate minority leader, who has been the most vocal opponent to the committee hiring outside counsel, spoke highly of Coe, a registered Democrat.
“I’m impressed with his level of professionalism,” Stoltzfus said. “I support the selection. I think he was the right person to pick. I think he’ll be professional in every sense.”
Coe said, “I’m honored to have been chosen, especially when you look at the other very good lawyers who were considered.”
Even with his previous investigative experience, Coe said it is tough to gauge how long the proceedings will take since “the length is determined by the facts.”
During the investigation of the Maryland savings and loan industry from 1985 to 1986, Coe was chief of staff for Wilbur D. Preston Jr., the special counsel for the state. In his cover letter for the position, Coe said his duties during the investigation included issuing subpoenas, reviewing documents and taking sworn testimony. He will advise members of the special committee on many of these topics while they conduct their investigation.
The committee’s task is to investigate the hiring and firing practices of the Ehrlich administration, following accusations that long-time state employees were fired because of their political affiliation. The investigation requires looking into personnel records of state employees, and the committee decided this would be a conflict of interest for their usual legislative aides, the Attorney General’s office and the Department of Legislative Services – all of whom are state employees.
“They should not, as state employees, be delving into other state employee personnel records,” Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, and co-chair of the subcommittee on staffing, said. “There are issues the committee may run into where the Department of Legislative Services and the Attorney General’s office find themselves in situations where they face conflicts.”
Sen. Thomas Middleton, D-Charles, and Delegate Adrienne A. Jones, D-Baltimore County, the two co-chairs of the committee, said they hope to sit down with Coe before the next committee hearing on Nov. 2 to discuss procedures. “We’re hoping to move forward as quickly as we can,” Middleton said.