Attorney named to Md.’s international advisory council

Gov. Martin O’Malley has named an attorney from Whiteford Taylor Preston LLP to Maryland’s International Advisory Council.

The Baltimore-based law firm announced Alexander W. Koff’s appointment Wednesday.

Koff already has significant international experience. He is the co-chair of the firm’s international practice and focuses mainly on international business transactions, government investigations, regulatory issues, litigation and arbitration. He has clients in Asia, Europe, Africa and South America.

The council focuses on the state’s international profile. It was created in 2009 and is made up of 20 members from various business areas and industries.

Why I did not vote on Bell’s successor

I did not vote in The Daily Record’s recent poll on whom you think Gov. Martin O’Malley should name as the next Court of Appeals chief judge when Robert M. Bell retires July 6, his 70th birthday.

I could tell you the reason I did not vote is because my journalistic integrity does not allow me to play favorites, even anonymously, when it comes to the institutions and people I cover.

That would be only half right. The other reason is I am not very good at predicting high-court appointees.

It all started in the summer of 1990 when Justice William J. Brennan Jr. announced his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court. The choice for his successor seemed obvious to me.

The then-U.S. solicitor general had stepped down from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., to take the job under then-President George H.W. Bush. Certainly, this man would be Bush’s choice for the Supreme Court.

But Bush passed on Kenneth W. Starr and selected a lesser-known 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge and former New Hampshire attorney general named David H. Souter.

I figured I’d quit while I was behind.

First Baltimore: Will Prince George’s be next?

Saying Baltimore had the right idea, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. is seeking a constitutional amendment that would require the judges on the Prince George’s County Orphan’s Court to be Maryland attorneys.

“Life is so complicated and estates are so large,” Miller told a Senate panel Wednesday in explaining why judges who hear probate cases in one of Maryland’s most populous counties should be learned in the law.

“You need somebody sharp on the orphans’ court,” Miller, D-Prince George’s and Calvert, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “You need somebody trained in the law.”

But Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, a committee member, appeared unconvinced. “A wise and compassionate CPA” who understands the financial implications of wills, trusts and estates would make a fine orphans’ court judge, said Forehand, D-Montgomery.

Miller disagreed, saying certified public accountants are better suited at providing expert testimony in orphans’ court cases than at making the ultimate legal conclusion.

If the General Assembly approves the amendment — Senate Bill 281 — Maryland voters will be asked in November 2012 if orphans’ court judges in Prince George’s County must be Maryland lawyers.

Miller’s testimony followed the ratification by Maryland voters last November of a constitutional amendment requiring that judges on the Orphans’ Court of Baltimore City be Maryland attorneys. The amendment made Baltimore’s Orphans’ Court the only one in the state whose judges must be members of the bar.

Ratification also led Gov. Martin O’Malley to refuse to seat Ramona Moore Baker, a non-lawyer, on the Baltimore court — even though she had won election to the bench the same day as the statewide vote. O’Malley said he was following the advice of Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who concluded that seating Moore would violate the newly amended constitution.

Quotation marks: you’re using them wrong

OK, so this isn’t strictly about law. I mean, it is insofar as it relates to the governor’s race and the governor signs things into law and both major candidates are lawyers. But really, it’s about grammar. Bear with me.

I just got a press release from the O’Malley campaign entitled, “Ehrlich’s ‘Faux’ Education Facts.” It goes on to use “faux,” in quotes, twice in the body of the press release. What the O’Malley folks are clearly trying to say is that Ehrlich’s facts are phony. What they are actually doing is casting doubt on the phoniness of Ehrlich’s facts by putting the word faux in quotes. It’s like when a store advertises, “Sale today! 50 percent off ‘everything’ in the store!” The store wants to emphasize that everything they have is on sale, but what they end up doing is making people wonder what’s not on sale.

What the O’Malley campaign should have done was used one of the two following titles: 1) “Ehrlich’s Faux Education Facts” (no quotation marks) or 2) “Ehrlich’s Education ‘Facts’” (quotation marks around the correct word).

To recap today’s lesson from an uptight grammar nerd: quotation marks are not for emphasis. Use them sparingly and wisely. And if you want a good laugh, go visit the “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks.

Will the governor come calling?

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler might soon be getting a call from Gov. Martin O’Malley, if he hasn’t already received one, seeking a campaign donation.

The governor, in his solicitation, might raise the following points:

  • Gansler is running unopposed for re-election; O’Malley is not.
  • Gansler has campaign money he need not spend on himself; O’Malley does not.
  • Gansler might want to run for governor in four years; O’Malley cannot if he wins re-election this fall against Republican challenger Robert Ehrlich and is term-limited out of office.
  • Gansler, if he plans a gubernatorial run, thus has a rooting interest in O’Malley’s victory this fall, as it is easier to win an open seat than one occupied by an incumbent (O’Malley’s win over then-Gov. Ehrlich in 2006 being an exception).

But cheers of “Go, Martin, Go” do not win re-election fights. Money does — and Gansler has plenty to spare.

The attorney general might also want to spread the wealth. Donating to many Democrats in tight races this fall could be an investment that pays dividends for Gansler in 2014 when he might seek gubernatorial-campaign support.

Exxon update: MDE will consider the request to reconsider

Following reports by our own Danny Jacobs and others that the Maryland Department of the Environment had decided to lift some of Exxon’s remediation requirements in the area of the massive 2006 Jacksonville gasoline leak — a decision made without input from those who live near the site, and which the agency seemed loathe to revisit — MDE Secretary Shari T. Wilson heard from her boss.

The upshot was an after-business-hours e-mail to the media from Wilson’s office. Received here at 6:24 p.m. Tuesday, it says, in part:

MDE today received a request from Governor Martin O’Malley to carefully and expeditiously review the citizen’s request to reconsider the decision allowing ExxonMobil to discontinue supplying bottled water. MDE will, of course, do so. This review, and previous decisions, are reviewed by scientists with expertise in groundwater, public health, and subsurface remediation.

Just to be clear, Wilson isn’t saying MDE has changed its mind, or that it will change its mind — only that it will think about the homeowners’ request that it change its mind.

Should O’Malley put his commutations where his mouth is?

Gov. O’Malley’s been pretty vocal about his opposition to the death penalty, speaking out about its fundamental wrongness and pushing hard for its abolition. The repeal efforts having failed, Charles Lane of the Washington Post wonders why O’Malley doesn’t just commute the sentences of the five men on Maryland’s death row:

To be sure, clearing Death Row wouldn’t achieve his ultimate goal of abolishing the death penalty. But it would save the lives of five people sentenced under what the Commission on Capital Punishment has told the governor was an irretrievably flawed process — and whose executions, according to O’Malley, would serve no purpose even if that process had been absolutely pristine.

So Lane asked O’Malley about it, and O’Malley was not, in his judgment, able to muster a convincing answer as to why he can’t or won’t commute the sentences. Lane concludes that it’s a political decision:

I suppose O’Malley’s re-election might be so important to the long-run cause of abolishing the death penalty in Maryland that it is worth exposing five actual condemned men to prolonged uncertainty, not to mention the risk of possible execution, in the here and now. But I’d sure like to see someone try to argue that publicly.

Of furloughs and following orders

While much of the state’s government will be shut down on Friday by Executive Order 01.01.2009.11, the courts will be up and running under Chief Judge Bell’s Administrative Order Pertaining to Temporary Salary Reduction etc.

The distinction might seem clear enough, but as Julie Bykowicz writes in today’s Sun, lots of the lawyers who will be expected to appear in court on Friday are state employees, including those in the offices of the public defender, attorney general and the state prosecutor.

Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough says he’ll be in court Friday, since the Paterakis arraignment is on the schedule. Granted, if it’s anything like Helen Holton’s arraignment on Wednesday, that will amount to about a nickel’s worth of time on a parking meter — but it’s still his own nickel.

If you look at the Judiciary’s Administrative Order, McDonough’s just being prudent. In no uncertain terms, Chief Judge Bell warns:

Persons with business before a court shall not be excused because of the Executive Order.

The Executive Order, though, is equally clear:

F.  An employee may not work during furlough time except that in the event of an emergency the appointing authority may revoke furlough time and the employee shall be paid for that time. An employee whose furlough time is revoked due to an emergency shall be required to take the furlough time on another day.

It’s possible an emergency was declared and McDonough’s furlough was revoked, or that whatever procedure is required to make that happen will, in fact, happen before he puts in his timecard. I sure hope so.

I’d hate to see an ethics prosecutor brought up on a payroll technicality, let alone for refusing to follow a direct order from the chief.

BPW pre-meetings – how open is open?

The Annapolis press corps has only recently begun attending the “pre-meetings” that members of the Board of Public Works hold in advance of their twice-monthly get-togethers. That’s why I was surprised when I got the boot Wednesday morning, the same day that members of the state spending panel slashed Maryland’s budget by almost $300 million, affecting tens of thousands of Marylanders.

The pre-meetings generally consist of a quick discussion of the issues coming before the board. It’s typically not that exciting, but since the BPW regularly approves tens of millions in state contracts, transparency is very important. 

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s office maintains that the pre-meetings were always open to the press. The problem was that until recently, many of us did not know they were taking place, because their time and place are not publicized in the same way that the formal meetings are. The issue came to my attention when one of Comptroller Peter Franchot’s staff members pointed out that Franchot doesn’t attend the meetings because he’s concerned about their legality under the state’s open meeting rules.

So we’re allowed to go in there now, and so I did Wednesday morning in hopes of getting just a little more context about the list of budget cuts that had still not been made public as of 10 a.m. This was about two hours before the BPW voted to approve the cuts wholesale after a brief discussion.

For the moment, I was the only reporter in the room. O’Malley came in and was trailed a few minutes later by Communications Director Rick Abbruzzese. Rick looked at me and gave me the old heave-ho, you’re out of here, thumb-over-the-shoulder gesture.

Until state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp arrived, Abbruzzese later explained, the governor’s staff would meet privately. Kopp stood in the hallway and spoke on her phone, not entering the room to create a quorum until the meeting had gone on behind closed doors for about 15 minutes. When Kopp entered the room, reporters were allowed in and we heard a short discussion of the cuts that included few specifics. We were handed a list of proposed cuts as the pre-meeting concluded.

So I’m wondering, is an open meeting closed until it officially begins? Help me out here, folks. Tell me what you think.

ANDY ROSEN, Business Writer

“If we have the money, we must spend the money”

O’MalleyWatch.com took notice of the most recent piece from our Editorial Advisory Board.

In, “Slots won’t help if state can’t live within its means,” the board makes the argument that slots revenue would do little to solve Maryland’s budget issues:

“The truth is, no matter how much revenue slots produce, inevitably the state’s slots revenues will be insufficient to satisfy all the promises that have been and are being made about ‘investments’ in Maryland, its economy, its schools and its people…

“Slot revenues will only mask the fact that Maryland is living beyond its means. Even if slots are approved, after only a few years, more revenue will be necessary to meet all of the expectations that have been raised by the promise of the river of slots revenue.”

O’Malley Watch boils down the state’s problem to this: “There is a dangerous concept in Government: If we have the money, we must spend the money.” Maryland certainly seems to be suffering from this ailment.

If you haven’t seen it yet, read the board’s article from Monday’s edition of Maryland Lawyer.

JOE BACCHUS, Web Specialist