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Special counsel appointed to investigate Del. Morhaim

Delegate's attorney denounces pace of probe, disclosure of outside counsel

Del. Dan Morhaim. (File)

Del. Dan Morhaim. (File)

ANNAPOLIS — The legislature’s Joint Ethics Committee has appointed a special counsel to continue its investigation into a state delegate’s activities related to a company seeking a medical cannabis license.

Exactly what that appointment means at this point is a matter of debate. An attorney representing Del. Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, said the independent attorney was brought in to resolve a potential conflict of interest within the committee involving its staff attorney who had advised the six-term delegate regarding the disclosure issues now under review.

Timothy Maloney, a former legislator and a partner at Greenbelt-based Joseph Greenwald & Laake, spoke for the first time publicly about his client and took the offensive against an inquiry that started in October.

“Delegate Morhaim was repeatedly assured that the appointment of outside counsel would remain confidential,” Maloney said. “Delegate Morhaim is deeply disappointed that the confidentiality of the Joint Committee has now been breached for a second time. Delegate Morhaim has strictly complied with the legislative ethics law.  This matter has dragged on for months and needs to be concluded now with a finding restoring Delegate Morhaim’s good name.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Friday the committee has hired outside counsel to continue its inquiry into Morhaim, which began last fall.

“We’ve ousted members from this body before. It’s was a very difficult, trying time, believe me,” Miller said during a morning Senate session Friday. “We’ve sanctioned members before. The ethics committee right now is going through a very trying process. They’ve appointed an independent counsel.”

Speaking later to reporters, Miller said he couldn’t comment on specifics but confirmed that the outside counsel that was hired was specifically for the Morhaim review.

“It’s very unusual,” the Senate president said. “It means that they take the case very seriously. What they’ve done is they’ve brought in a high person, very high visibility. He’s been in place for quite some time now. He’s investigating. It’s in an investigation stage right now.”

“We’e done this before,” Miller said. “We’re not prosecutors here, so what we have is we bring in an outside person, a prosecutor who investigates the allegations and then makes recommendations to the General Assembly.”

The Senate president said the last time the legislature brought in an outside, independent counsel was in 1998, when Sen. Larry Young, a Baltimore Democrat, was expelled after being accused of using his office to solicit bribes and gifts that included a car. The end of his more than two-decade long General Assembly career came on recommendations from the legislative ethics commission following a state trial in which Young was acquitted of extortion and bribery charges by a jury.

By law, inquiries by the ethics committee are confidential. The committee is believed to be looking into whether Morhaim followed all disclosure laws in addition to his roles as a legislator and licensed physician who was a lead advocate for medical cannabis and who also served as the clinical director of Doctor’s Orders, a company that sought a license under the state’s medical marijuana program.

Maloney noted that the committee has not charged Morhaim with anything and does not have any formal complaints before it — though he acknowledged that the committee can act on its own if it learned of a potential concern.

“They can do it on their own, even acting on an incorrect Washington Post article that was later corrected,” Maloney said. “But there’s just no basis for a complaint.”

A September story in that paper noted Morhaim’s consulting work with Doctor’s Orders. A correction in that article later stated that Morhaim had filed public disclosure firms that he had worked as a consultant and had earned money for his work but that he didn’t disclose his client because he was advised by the General Assembly’s ethics counsel that state law did not require him to list his clients.

Maloney, said Miller exaggerated the meaning of the hiring of outside counsel, adding that the outside attorney is needed because of a potential conflict that could arise involving advice the legislative ethics office gave the delegate regarding disclosure.

“This is absolutely incorrect,” Maloney said of Miller’s assertions. “Delegate Morhaim was told that he should not infer that (this) is serious or not serious about the hiring of an outside counsel.”

Maloney said Miller suffered from “Friday fever” and was under pressure to publicly show concern after a series of arrests and resignations related to an ongoing federal corruption investigation in Prince George’s County combined with Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement Thursday of an ethics reform package. Maloney said some want a scapegoat, someone they can present as an ethically-challenged witch to burn at the stake.

“Dan Morhaim is not a witch, and this is not stake,” Maloney said.

Morhaim and Maloney maintain that all disclosure laws were followed based on the advice of the legislative ethics office. Maloney went on to describe Morhaim as super sensitive to ethical issues.

“Some legislators couldn’t even tell you where the (legislative) ethics office is,” Maloney said. “(Morhaim) is their best customer. He’s a frequent flyer. He’s in their office all the time. He doesn’t go to the restroom without seeking their advice.”

(An earlier version of this article mistakenly reported that Sen. Larry Young, a Baltimore Democrat, was acquitted in a federal trial of extortion and bribery charges. It was a state prosecution.)


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