Zirkin made death penalty repeal debate memorable

The flurry of legislative activity that led to the General Assembly’s vote this year to repeal the death penalty in Maryland included the most memorable quote of the 2013 session — if only because of the speaker.

For the prior four years, Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin was widely regarded as one of the two legislators who saved capital punishment in Maryland. With the Senate poised to vote for abolition in 2009, Zirkin – with Sen. James Brochin – crafted legislation that preserved the death penalty but limited its application only when DNA evidence, a videotaped confession or a videotape of the crime conclusively linked the defendant to the capital murder.

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Kramer to seek special session on dog bill

Benjamin Kramer and Kathleen Dumais

Dels. Benjamin Kramer, left and Kathleen Dumais, both Montgomery County Democrats, get into a heated exchange about the dog-liability bill on the House floor Monday night. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Del. Benjamin Kramer, whose opposition to legislation imposing near-strict liability on dog owners led to the measure’s death in the House, said he wants the General Assembly to have a one-day special session to pass legislation to relieve landlords of their strict liability for injuries caused by their tenants’ pit bulls.

Kramer, a Montgomery County Democrat,  said he has not consulted yet with either Gov. Martin O’Malley, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s and Calvert, or House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, on a special session. However, Kramer said he plans to send a formal request to the governor soon after meeting with fellow legislators.

Landlords, fearing strict liability, have forced tenants to choose between staying in their rental abodes or getting rid of their pets, Kramer said.

“We have an obligation and a responsibility to protect the family pets of our residents,” he said. Tenants “should not be put into that position. That’s what we have to stop.”

He added that providing relief to landlords from strict liability remains the unfinished business of the 2013 General Assembly session, which ended Monday.

O’Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said “the governor would likely have  a conversation with legislative leaders and the delegate” before committing to a special session.

Maryland’s top court imposed strict liability on landlords in its April 2012 Tracey v. Solesky decision, which also held pit bull owners strictly liable for injuries their dogs cause.

The Senate-passed legislation that died in the House as the General Assembly adjourned would have held dog owners, regardless of breed, liable for injuries their pets cause to children under age 13. Owners could escape liability only if the child had trespassed or provoked the dog. For people 13 and older, owners would have to rebut the presumption of liability by showing by a preponderance of the evidence that they had no reason to suspect their dog had a vicious propensity.

Kramer opposed the Senate bill, saying on the House floor Monday that the measure would unfairly make a dog owner liable whenever “little Fifi” nipped at a child. On Wednesday, Kramer said the Senate and House should reconvene to pass legislation on which he said both chambers agree: that landlords should not be held strictly liable.

General Assembly takes up bill to allow illegal immigants to get driver’s licenses

Maryland’s legislature is debating a bill that would overturn the state’s law prohibiting illegal immigrants from getting driver’s licenses.

Sen. Victor Ramirez, D-Prince George’s County, is sponsoring the measure. He says the granting of licenses to illegal immigrants is a “necessity” because it would “allow people to drive to work, to get insurance.” He also said the bill would offer more protections and generate millions of dollars in new revenue.

Under federal law, the licenses would be only for driving.

“You cannot use it to get on an airplane,” Ramirez told WTOP-AM. “You cannot use it for federal purposes.”

That fact would be specifically indicated on the license itself.

The bill has strong support from fellow Democrats. But opponents, such as Del. Kelly Schulz, R-Frederick, say the measure could take away incentive to become legal.

“When you give someone a state ID, it is an agreement for them to be here,” she told WTOP.

Maryland made it illegal to give licenses to illegal immigrants in 2009. Washington state, New Mexico and Illinois all permit illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

Buying kosher wine online? L’chaim!

manischewitz wineJust in time for Shabbos, we bring you news that Maryland Jews may soon be able to purchase kosher wine online.

Del. Sam Arora, D-Montgomery County, said Friday that he has been approached by a number of Jewish constituents who have expressed frustration at not being able to purchase a variety of kosher wine at local wine stores.

“If you go to your local beer or wine store, they only have so much room,” he said. “If they have kosher wine, it’s going to be the cheaper stuff.”

Under a state law passed in two years ago, residents can purchase wine online only from wineries in the country. But most kosher wines are made in Israel and France and, according to a story in the Washington Examiner, no Maryland wineries produce kosher wine.

Arora said he is trying to explore whether the legislature can find a religious accommodation to the law.

“We are going to figure out whether there is a way to create a narrow exception,” Arora said. “It’s about trying to find a way to create religious accommodations so that Jews can live out their faith.”

Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, who sponsored the current law permitting the online purchasing of wine from wineries, said he would be in favor of creating such an accommodation.

“I think our liquor laws are unduly restrictive in general, so anything that opens it up I am in favor,” Raskin said. “This is a reasonable accommodation for a religious group. I certainly hope we pass this.”

So, readers, will you be breaking out the Manischewitz to celebrate?

(Photo: Jeremy Parzen)

Raskin rips Romney, Ryan and Robert (Bork)

Maryland state Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, D-Montgomery, wants voters heading to the polls to remember that the president has the authority to make appointments to the Supreme Court and lower federal courts — and that Robert Bork is among the legal advisers to the Republican ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Raskin, an ardent supporter of President Barack Obama, warned in Wednesday’s Huffington Post that a “Romney-Ryan-Bork court would lead to the uncorking of bottles of champagne throughout the boardrooms of America’s largest and most right-wing corporations.”

Romney appointees to the federal courts would lead to “an acceleration of all of the worst trends already ravaging the prospects of justice for ‘natural persons’ in America, including the destruction of what is left of campaign finance and disclosure laws as corporations assume all the political free speech rights of the people, a dramatic change ushered in by Citizens United in 2010,” Raskin added on the post’s Politics blog.

Raskin has been quite prolific recently, having written an op-ed piece in the New York Times last week calling for a constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Supreme Court ruled that “the government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether” under the First Amendment.

But Raskin, a widely respected constitutional law professor at American University, might need to brush up on his history.

In the Huffington Post piece he referred to Bork as as “the right-wing polemicist and former Bush Supreme Court nominee so extreme that he was rejected by a bipartisan coalition of Senators in 1987.”

“I think somebody must have changed that,” Raskin said of the error. “I very well know that Ronald Reagan is the one who made that mistake.”

Pit bull task force talk

The General Assembly’s pit bull task force met Thursday for the first time since this summer.

While no concrete decisions were made and only six of the 10 members of the task force attended, the group discussed how to determine whether a dog is at fault in the case of an attack.

As a recap: The task force is supposed to discuss legislation in response to an Court of Appeals decision earlier this year that ruled pit bulls are “inherently dangerous” and landlords and owners are liable in the case of an attack.

In a special session this summer, the General Assembly tried, but failed, to pass legislation dealing with the issue. Both the Senate and House of Delegates agreed that landlords should not be liable in attacks. While the Senate passed a bill making all dog owners liable in the case of a dog bite, the House of Delegates wanted narrower legislation that would limit liability only when a dog is running around “at large.”

In Thursday’s hour-and-a-half meeting, the group discussed the complexities of determining whether a dog bite is intentional and if a dog is at fault if he/she is provoked by a human.

“Is there any state in which it is allowed for a dog to be cross-examined?” Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, questioned during the work session.

Del. Benjamin F. Kramer, D-Montgomery,  said other states have had animal psychologists testify in court.

“We have to look at this from an animal’s perspective,” Kramer said. “From an animal’s perspective, this was provocation.”

Frosh, however, questioned Kramer.

“Do we really want to go down that road?” Frosh said.

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In-House Interrogatory

This week it is all about Facebook and Twitter, even for general counsels.

Asked: Our weekly question to the In-House community

National Labor Relations Board Acting General Counsel Lafe E. Solomon issued his latest report on employee social media use May 30, his third in less than a year. Solomon examined the practices of several companies’ social media policies but basically maintains that when companies create too many rules for social media use, they violate the National Labor Relations Act by limiting employee rights.

Solomon is also not the only one talking social media in the workplace lately. The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill in April banning employers from asking employees for their passwords to their social media accounts.

Here’s our question for you:

What are your companies’ policies on social media use and how do you deal with the issue as a general counsel?

Leave a comment below or email me.

Need to Know:

  • Now as to what’s what in the in-house world. This week, we have general counsels coming, going, even taking pay cuts. We have the details on the biggest moves in the industry:
  • Fannie Mae made its general counsel, Timothy J. Mayopoulos, its new CEO. Mayopoulos, however, will go from pulling in about $2.66 million a year to a $600,000 annual salary.
  • Weather Channel Companies named George Callard its new general counsel. The catch? This guy could be in for a bumpy ride after a former anchor/reporter filed suit against the company alleging new management did not let her take time off to serve in the Air Force Reserves.
  • Susan G. Komen for the Cure named Ellen D. Willmott  as its new general counsel, the group announced Wednesday. Willmott comes to the the breast cancer charity organization from Save the Children USA.
  • To get more in-house counsel news, sign up for our FREE monthly email newsletter, In-House Counsel. The newsletter is a compilation of The Daily Record’s coverage of in-house counsel news as well as job listings, movements within the industry and other resources. Click here to sign up today.
  • Follow us on Twitter for the In-House news and discussion: @TDRInHouse
  • Want the latest on who’s been hired, fired or moving and shaking in between? Head to our Movers and Shakers page to find out.
  • For networking events and other happenings this week in Maryland, check out our calendar of events.
  • Get the very latest updates from our law reporters on Twitter: @TDRKristi, @BenMook@Steve_Lash
  • Check out The Daily Record on Facebook.

General Assembly takes up United Methodist property rights law

Committees in both houses of the General Assembly are scheduled in the next few days to take up a bill that would erase a state law that codifies the United Methodist Church’s bylaws giving it property rights of its churches.

Helping to lead the charge on the bills are members of Sunnyside New Life Community Church in Frederick, whose legal battle with its former denomination I’ve written about in the past. They will be part of two busloads of supporters making the trip to the Senate on Thursday and House of Delegates on Tuesday.

Pastor Kenneth Mitchell, Sunnyside’s spiritual leader, said the law is causing particular hardships for small, historically-black churches such as Sunnyside, which ended up about $100,000 in debt after taking out a mortgage on its property for the first time and paying legal fees associated with its litigation with the UMC.

Mitchell, who will be testifying before lawmakers, said supporters are “very confident and very hopeful” the bill will past this year after failing in previous sessions. The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, D-Baltimore City. The lead sponsor for the identical House bill is Del. Hattie N. Harrison, D-Baltimore City

“This time the issue is not localized in one county,” Mitchell said. “This is across the state.”

The lighter side of same-sex marriage

If this Maryland Senate gig doesn’t work out for him, Jamie Raskin might try stand-up comedy.

The Montgomery County Democrat delivered a string of laugh lines last Thursday while speaking at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Raskin had been invited to discuss how legislation to permit same-sex couples to marry in Maryland failed to win approval in the House of Delegates after clearing the Senate this past General Assembly session.

The unabashed liberal began his talk by quoting from “our last great Republican president, Abraham Lincoln.”

He then recounted a conversation overheard in the General Assembly between an opponent and supporter of same-sex marriage.

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Law blog roundup

Good Monday morning. If you’re still tired after losing an hour of sleep over the weekend, look at the bright side: it may be light outside when you leave your office tonight. If that doesn’t do it for you, perhaps the law links below will.

  • A lawyer reviewing claims that chemical testing at Fort Detrick has caused a cancer cluster says it ain’t so.
  • Law firms are doing better, but it’s mostly because of cost-cutting measures.
  • Maryland’s failed gay marriage bill exposed religious fault lines.
  • When all it takes is “I’m sorry.”
  • Ag art lovers: better get out there and get snapping soon. A Florida bill could make it illegal to take photos of farms there.
  • The National Law Journal has a comprehensive package on Legal Aid.
  • A Philadelphia public school teacher has been yanked her from the classroom for publicly opposing a plan to turn her school into a charter school. The union expects her to be fired today.
  • L’Affaire Renault.