Once again, we are being treated to the sorry spectacle of an elected official desperately trying to cling to public office after conviction of a crime.
This time, it’s Del. Tiffany Alston, D-Prince George’s, who struck a plea bargain last week on the eve of trial for corruption charges.
Ms. Alston’s plea bargain settled two cases. In June, a jury convicted her of using $800 in state money to pay an employee in her law firm, and she agreed not to contest that finding in the plea agreement.
Ms. Alston was sentenced to one year in jail with all of the time suspended for misconduct in office that related to the payment to her employee. She was sentenced to three years of supervised probation and 300 hours of community service. She must pay the money back to the state.
She also pleaded no contest to charges relating to using campaign money to pay wedding expenses, the charge on which she was about to stand trial when she agreed to the plea bargain.
The day after the plea bargain, the General Assembly’s legal counsel concluded that Ms. Alston was automatically suspended from office without pay when she was sentenced.
But Ms. Alston and her attorney are arguing that because her misconduct conviction can later be changed to probation if she fulfills certain requirements, that would allow her to reclaim her seat in the House of Delegates.
There are two ways to address this and similar problems.
First, Maryland voters should approve a proposed constitutional amendment in November that says an official is suspended from office immediately after a guilty finding and removed automatically after pleading guilty. Ironically, Del. Alston was a co-sponsor of that measure.
That should take care of the future. But the House of Delegates has some work to do in the present, because it is uncertain whether the amendment would cover Ms. Alston’s case.
So the House needs to meet the problem head-on by expelling Ms. Alston.
People who steal public funds should be removed from office. Period. Is that such a difficult concept?