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Miller says comments on Morhaim ethics review a ‘mistake’

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Tuesday he erred when commenting last week on the hiring of an outside counsel related to the ethics review involving Del. Dan Morhaim.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. vowed to restore funding for Prince George’s Medical Center that would be cut under Gov. Larry Hogan’s budget plan. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.  (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

“I didn’t realize that the hiring of an attorney wasn’t common knowledge,” Miller said in response to questions from The Daily Record. “Two, I am not a member of the ethics committee though I could be on the ethics committee. So I’ve never attended, I leave it to other people. I’ve not spoken to any ethics committee member at any time. Although, I’m in charge of the budget in the Senate.”

Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch are both non-voting, ex officio members of the Maryland Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. The proceedings of that committee as it pertains to reviews of complaints against legislators are confidential by law in all but a narrow set of circumstances.

Busch has repeatedly declined to answer questions related to the ethics committee review of Morhaim, citing the confidentiality requirement.

It is not clear what penalty, if any, could be enforced on someone who violates that law.

Last fall, the committee undertook a review of Morhaim’s disclosures as it relates to the regulating of the medical cannabis industry. None of the members have spoken about the issue, all citing the law. Many will not even discuss when the committee meets until the meetings are published on the legislature’s official public calendar.

On Friday, Timothy F. Maloney, a former legislator who represents Morhaim, did not directly criticize Miller by name but said the delegate “is deeply disappointed that the confidentiality of the Joint Committee has now been breached for a second time.”

Miller on Friday announced during a Senate session that the committee had hired an outside counsel and later told reporters the lawyer, a former prosecutor, was hired to investigate the matter saying it was serious in nature and alluded to the expulsion of former Sen. Larry Young, a Baltimore Democrat.

“I thought it was common knowledge,” Miller said. “It was my mistake. I thought it was common knowledge.”

“So what happened was, they ran into a huge conflict in the committee,” Miller continued. “The committee voted to hire outside counsel. To obtain funding they had to get my permission and the Speaker’s permission to hire outside counsel. So that’s the reason I knew about the huge problem in the committee and why they needed to go outside to hire outside counsel and I OK’d the funding. That’s my total role, total involvement in the committee. I haven’t discussed issues since they hired the counsel or anything else.

“The question is, I’ve never attended a meeting, I don’t attend the meetings, I’ve never discussed this with a member of the committee in terms of what their workings are,” Miller responded when asked if the confidentiality rules specifically applied to him as an ex officio member. “As President of the Senate they had to come to me for permission to hire an attorney. And for permission to hire an attorney they had to tell me how serious the issue was and why they needed hire an attorney and I immediately agreed. That’s all I can tell you.”

Miller said he made the remarks in an effort to provide public transparency.

“People need to know how their tax dollars are being spent and I agreed to hire an attorney,” Miller said.

The name of the attorney and the amount the attorney is being paid is not public. Both Miller and his staff have cited the confidentiality of the committee in declining to provide the information.

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