ANNAPOLIS — Former Del. Tiffany Alston automatically lost her seat in the Maryland House of Delegates when she was convicted of misconduct in office in October, and a Prince George’s County committee can withdraw the name of a former drug dealer it nominated to replace her, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Prince George’s Circuit Court Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr. also ruled that the county’s County Democratic Central Committee can submit another nominee to Gov. Martin O’Malley. However, the nomination won’t be binding on the governor, because it would be made after a 30-day time limit set for the committee to forward a name.
The ruling brings some clarity to tortuous legal wrangling over the state’s constitutional provision relating to an official’s removal for wrongdoing and rules for replacing a state legislator. The case also has put renewed focus on a county that has been trying to emerge from a cloud of high-profile political corruption cases.
“The circumstances of this case do little for the good name and reputation of our state and even less for our county,” Nichols began in his ruling.
Raquel Guillory, a spokesman for O’Malley, said the governor was pleased with the judge’s decision.
“We’re reviewing the options here,” Guillory said.
Alston has contended she should be reinstated to her office, saying her conviction was never final. After the Prince George’s Democrat paid back $800 in state money that she used to pay a clerk in her private law firm and completed community service, her conviction was changed to probation before judgment.
However, Nichols wrote that her conviction was rendered final after she was convicted and forfeited her appellate rights in an October plea deal. She also did not file any appeal she may have had within 30 days, Nichols noted.
“Therefore, we conclude Ms. Alston was removed from office by operation of law on October 9, 2012, by virtue of her conviction for official misconduct and her waiver of her rights of appeal,” the judge wrote.
J. Wyndal Gordon, Alston’s attorney, said it was unclear whether Alston would seek to appeal Nichols’ ruling.
“I disagree with some fundamental portions of it, and I guess we’ll just have to come together as a unit, or as a team, and decide what the next move is,” Gordon said.
Greg Hall was nominated by the committee on a 12-10 vote on Nov. 2 to replace Alston. However, shortly after his name was submitted to O’Malley on Nov. 7, critics focused on drug and gun charges he faced 20 years ago. He pleaded guilty in 1992 to possession of a handgun in connection with a shooting that resulted in the killing of a 13-year-old boy, although it was determined he did not fire the fatal shot.
After increasing attention was brought to his past, the committee planned to meet Nov. 17 to withdraw Hall’s name. However, Hall requested a temporary restraining order to prevent the panel from doing that.
Hall, who readily admits he was a drug dealer two decades ago, said he planned to appeal the judge’s decision. He said he had been open about his past and found support.
“Everybody knew, so the heat was on them from other high officials,” Hall said Wednesday night.