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With probation, Alston vows to fight for seat

The House of Delegates might be facing a constitutional battle following the sentence of probation before judgment given to Del. Tiffany T. Alston on Tuesday.

“The people who voted for me have rights,” Alston said, adding that the modification effectively removed her conviction and the basis for her removal from office. “My next step is to go back to work.”

But that step might be a difficult one in light of the General Assembly counsel’s opinion, stated in a letter to House Speaker Michael Busch, that Alston forfeited her seat by operation of law when a judge first sentenced her on Oct. 9 following her June conviction for misdemeanor theft and misconduct in office. The counsel, Daniel A. Friedman of the Office of the Maryland Attorney General, declined comment Tuesday evening.

At the Oct. 9 sentencing, Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Paul Harris said he would give Alston probation before judgment if she completed 300 hours of community service and paid $800 in restitution.

On Tuesday, Harris said Alston completed those conditions, which resulted from a plea bargain between Alston’s counsel and State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt.

Alston, D-Prince George’s, said Tuesday’s action removes her conviction and, without the conviction, the removal provision does not apply.

“While my reputation may be tarnished, I have no conviction; I have been convicted of no crime. I am fit and able to continue to serve,” Alston said.

“The attorney general should not be able to deprive the people … of fair, unfettered representation,” Alston said. “You can’t take away [the voters’] rights because of your opinion.”

Alston’s name has been removed from the list of delegates on the General Assembly’s website and the 24-member Prince George’s County Central Committee selected businessman Greg Hall on Nov. 2 to take over Alston’s seat, pending Gov. Martin O’Malley’s approval. As a result, Alston may find someone occupying her seat when the General Assembly’s 2013 session begins in January.

If that occurs, Alston said she will ask a court to have that person removed.

“I haven’t stopped fighting yet,” Alston said “I do believe it will be decided by a court.”

Alston said she does not believe the situation will result in the spectacle of having the sergeant at arms forcibly removing her from the House of Delegates chamber.

“I am a lady and I have a lot of class,” Alston said. “I will not be removed from anywhere by force.”

Under the Maryland Constitution, any state official convicted of a misdemeanor related to his or her public duties that involves moral turpitude and carries a penalty of incarceration will be suspended without pay or benefits from the elective office. The constitution adds that the official will be removed from elective office if the conviction becomes final after judicial review or otherwise.

In June, an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court jury found that Alston had illegally paid an employee in her law office $800 in state funds by characterizing the worker as a member of her legislative staff.

The plea deal also resolved a criminal charge that Alston misused campaign funds by allegedly using $3,560 to cover her wedding expenses in December 2010 and making a $1,250 cash withdrawal.

Alston’s attorney Raouf M. Abdullah said he is ready for the constitutional confrontation.

“Ms. Alston was elected and the people who elected her should be the ones who determine if she should keep that seat,” said Abdullah, of Raouf M. Abdullah & Associates LLC in Upper Marlboro.

“The attorney general’s office is going out of its way to interpret the constitutional provision in a way that is not required,” he added. “It becomes a result-oriented interpretation.”