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Charles Co. commissioner alleges state’s attorney defamed her

The president of the Board of Charles County Commissioners has sued the county state’s attorney for allegedly abusing his power and defaming her by publicly disclosing details of a grand jury investigation.

Candice Quinn Kelly alleges Anthony B. Covington “intentionally misled the public into believing Kelly had committed a crime” by releasing transcripts of grand jury testimony earlier this year even though Kelly was never charged, according to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

“It should be concerning to everyone as citizens when you see a prosecutor step outside the lines,” said Susan L. Burke, Kelly’s lawyer.

Kelly was being investigated by the grand jury for allegedly directing a county employee in late December 2011 to seek the 2010 tax forms of the board’s vice president, according to the Maryland Independent, which received the transcripts in February after filing a Public Information Act request.

Burke, a Baltimore solo practitioner, said Kelly was responding to “serious community concern” about what commissioners were claiming on their taxes for use of government vehicles. The lawsuit alleges Kelly was acting “well within the scope and powers of her office” by seeking the tax forms to ensure the personal use of government vehicles was reported and that the mileage was not “substantially understated,” her lawsuit states.

Tax forms and tax returns are considered confidential under state and federal law and cannot be released without prior consent. But Burke noted employers, such as the county government, see the tax forms and Kelly was not accused of trying to make the information public.

Covington ultimately decided not to pursue criminal charges against Kelly but later sought and received a court order to release the grand jury testimony in response to the PIA request. Covington told the Maryland Independent “some light is the best antiseptic there is for this one” and that “people can look at the grand jury documents and decide for themselves” whether Kelly committed any wrongdoing.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Covington’s office said he was unavailable but that he had no comment on the lawsuit. He was elected state’s attorney in 2010 after serving seven years as deputy state’s attorney.

Kelly, a Democrat, was elected to the board of commissioners in 2010 and is running in June’s primary for a seat in the House of Delegates.

“This lawsuit is necessary to set the record straight and curb Mr. Covington’s abuse of his power,” Kelly said in a statement provided by Burke. “We look forward to presenting the evidence to the court and jury.”

The case is Kelly v. Covington, 8:14-cv-01636-DKC.

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