Hall pass denied for one local Prince George's County resident
It is the most coveted governing document of any governmental institution, one that outlines the duties in which every elected official is sworn to uphold upon entering office. Yet on Friday, Maryland's highest court - the Court of Appeals - seemed to throw out the language articulated by the founders of the 'Free State'; instead, giving the Governor 'free reign' on his choice of those elected/appointed to serve the constitutions of any given district.
In a very tangled and convoluted case labeled the 'Alston-Hall hearing', the seven-member body of the state's highest court took up a case that had originated from the courts of Prince George's County which sought to give a final decision on the political wranglings of the county's 24th legislative district. However, with the one paragraph order given by the state's most powerful judges on Friday, having delayed an official opinion on the case; the judges only seemed to exacerbated the problem at hand, adding to the confusion of an already questionable legal ruling.
'Constitutions not only represent the ideals and aspirations of a civil society, but also reflect the division and delicate balancing of economic, social and political power.' ~ Md. Politics and Government, John Willis/Herb Smith
Reported on multiple times last year by this Examiner, the courts had to take into consideration the framework of the state's constitution – the governing document of Maryland since 1776 and ratified three times since – while also weighing the oral arguments made by the Governor and Attorney General – the state's chief executive and attorney respectively. Judges had to decide whether an incumbent delegate, found guilty of certain crimes, was able to continue to serve in the office she was elected, and if not, was the person appointed to take her seat able to serve - after the Governor stalled in approving the selection made by the county's State Central Committee.
Arguing the case on behalf of the defendants' was two separate attorneys, focused on two separate issues; as Irwin Kramer represented Delegate Tiffany Alston and Walter Green was counsel for Greg Hall – the appointee. Both argued that the rulings by the Attorney General and the previous Prince George's County Circuit Court Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr, along with the actions of the Governor, were unconstitutional and set a bad precedent for future political decisions.
Alston's attorney argued that his client, though found guilty of misdemeanor charges, was given an agreed upon deal that spared her from criminal conviction through what is known as a 'PBJ' (Probation Before Judgment); and thereby not excluded from continuing to serve in her elected office based on Article XV, Section 2 of the Maryland State Constitution. Since this final judgment is thereby wiped off a person's record upon completion of any and all obligations set forth by the court, which Alston has since completed; the clear argument is that she should not have ever lost her right to serve the constituents of the 24th district.
Hall's attorney argued that upon removal of Alston from her seat, Article III, Section 13 clearly lays out the process in which her replacement shall be appointed; and that the Governor overstepped his constitutional authority by intervening in the choice made by the democratic central committee who is the only entity authorized to make such an appointment. Also arguing the time set forth in the constitution that both the state central committee and the governor have to make such decisions, Green made a pressing case as to why there should be no question as to Hall's appointment to this seat - other than personal reasons of course.
“The court's latest decision just gave authoritative power to the Governor of this state, and just made the people's power of decision obsolete,” says Hall, in an interview with this Examiner.
“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government - lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.” ~ Patrick Henry
And while I have written numerous times about the atrocities of the Alston case, and why despite the personal feelings of some regarding her convictions, it still doesn't override the principled laws set forth by our state's constitution; Hall's case is even more of a head-scratchier, as the high court's decision regarding the words spelled out in the state's governing document made even the brightest constitutional lawyers question this decision.
According to the article of the constitution outlining the appointment process of an elected official based on death, disqualification, resignation, refusal to act, expulsion or removal from the county elected to serve; the Governor shall appoint a person to fill such vacancy from a person whose name shall be submitted to him in writing, within thirty days after the occurrence of the vacancy, by the Central Committee of the political party, if any, with which the Delegate or Senator, so vacating, had been affiliated, in the County or District from which he or she was appointed or elected, provided that the appointee shall be of the same political party, if any, as was that of the Delegate or Senator, whose office is to be filled, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Delegate or Senator, and it shall be the duty of the Governor to make said appointment within fifteen days after the submission thereof to him.
And those words were followed to a tee by the Prince George's County Democratic State Central Committee, from which Alston resided and the Party from which she came. In fact, the 24-member committee selected Hall in a 12-10 vote over the Chairman of the state central committee, Terry Speigner; who also was seeking to fill Alston's seat. However, after receiving the elected body's choice, Governor Martin O'Malley chose not to fulfill his constitutional obligation of appointing the nominee within a 15-day period.
“The only way the Governor is allowed to appoint someone to a vacancy, is if there is either no sitting central committee for the person elected [case in point, if an Independent was elected, there is no body set to submit such an appointee]; or the elected body known as the central committee of whichever party does not submit a name to the Governor within the time frame spelled out in the state constitution,” says one constitutional attorney, who wished to remain anonymous based on their current practice before the courts and the governor's office.
"The Constitution is a guide that I shall never abandon” ~ George Washington
O'Malley apparently had an issue with Hall being the appointee, based on a 21-year old misdemeanor conviction that the 42-year old received in the 1990's; though that did not seem to stop the Governor from asking for Hall's support when he initially ran for the state's highest office in 2006, according to Hall. “How ironic is it, that the man who once relied on my assistance to help get him elected through my contacts amongst the constituents of the 24th district, now says I'm not fit to serve those same people,” questioned Hall, who received 3,124 votes in the 2010 elections, coming just short of Alston for one of the three delegate seats in the district.
“I was just appointed to the democratic state central committee by these same people in August of 2011, including having the Governor's blessing - as a gender balance appointee. So, I'm good enough to raise money for the Governor (which is the primary responsibility of the state central committee), but not good enough to serve the people of my district huh,” questioned a frustrated Hall.
But Hall is also frustrated with the African American political leadership, or lack thereof, in PG County and statewide; stating that these are the same officials who also had no problem calling on him to help campaign for them, yet remain silent when they know he is being 'shafted'. “Where is Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, who is suppose to be a representative of the people, whose former legislative district (25th) neighbors the 24th? These officials are dictating the terms of the politics of a locality that they themselves don't frequent; yet, now they wanna act as if they are so concerned about the people of the 24th district? I challenge the Governor, or Brown - who wants to be Governor in 2014 - to come debate me on the issues affecting the citizens of the 24th..”
Yet, for now at least, the 24th district residents of gorgeous Prince George's are without quality representation, unless the members of the state central committee don't rescind Hall's name in their upcoming meeting on Tuesday. In fact, these same members, who initially voted for Hall and then held the Governor's subsequent letter to remove Hall's name in abatement with a 12-8 vote; could send a clear message to the Governor and the courts; that, as elected officials sworn to uphold the state's governing document known as the constitution, their decision is final – and binding.
PG County State Central Committee members – and their votes for Alston's appointee: (12-10 in favor of Hall)
Sylvia Bolivar, At Large District/Circuit 21 – Absent
Mary R. Davis, District/Circuit 24 – Absent
Alonzo T. Washington, At Large District/Circuit 22 – Greg Hall
Cheryl Landis, At Large District/Circuit 23 – Greg Hall
Shaihi Mwalimu, At Large District/Circuit 27A – Greg Hall
Salome Peters, District/Circuit 21 – Greg Hall
Dennis Whitley III, District/Circuit 21 – Greg Hall
Denise Riley, District/Circuit 22 – Greg Hall
Emmitt Jordan, District/Circuit 22 – Greg Hall
Denise A.Tyler, District/Circuit 23A – Greg Hall
Shirley Pearl Thompson, District/Circuit 25 – Greg Hall
Matthew Thomas, District/Circuit 27A – Greg Hall
Beverly Ball, District/Circuit 47 - Greg Hall
Norma L. Lindsay, At Large District/Circuit 25 – Greg Hall
Terry Speigner, At Large District/Circuit 24 - Terry Speigner
Veronica L. Davila-Steele, At Large District/Circuit 26 – Terry Speigner
Janelle J. Jordan, At Large District/Circuit 47 – Terry Speigner
Cassandra "Casey" Lewis, District/Circuit 23B – Terry Speigner
Pamela Oatis, District/Circuit 24 – Terry Speigner
Teena Green, District/Circuit 25 – Terry Speigner
Nora E. Carmichael, District/Circuit 26 – Terry Speigner
Dennis H. Rowe, District/Circuit 26 – Terry Speigner
LaRhonda R.Owens, District/Circuit 27A – Terry Speigner
Dottie McNeill, District/Circuit 47 – Terry Speigner
*Norma L. Lindsay (25th) was previously marked as a vote for Terry Speigner in error, please note that she indeed voted for Greg Hall, who couldn't even vote for himself because he was a gender balance appointee!
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