ANNAPOLIS — A former top Baltimore prosecutor appears to be part of an ongoing confidential ethics review of a state delegate from Baltimore County.
Gregg L. Bernstein, who previously served as the Baltimore City State’s Attorney, was whisked past a reporter and into a House office building suite nearly an hour before the scheduled start of a Legislative Joint Ethics Committee meeting. The presence of the well-known former prosecutor increased speculation that he has been hired to serve as outside counsel to the committee as it reviews ethics concerns involving Del. Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County.
Bernstein, who entered the suite through a staff-only entrance, was not in the room during the committee’s public portion of the meeting that lasted less than 2 minutes. Following the initial meeting, the panel closed the meeting to the public.
Bernstein, an attorney with Baltimore-based Zuckerman Spaeder, was not seen leaving the suite.
A senior aide to House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who led Bernstein into the suite through the staff-only entrance, declined to comment.
A number of sources told The Daily Record prior to Wednesday’s committee meeting that Bernstein is, in fact, the attorney hired in the fall by the panel as outside counsel.
The work of the ethics committee is confidential by law except under a narrow set of circumstances. Members of the panel have refused to discuss the ongoing meetings and have not confirmed the connection to Morhaim.
Timothy Maloney, a former legislator who is also Morhaim’s attorney and a partner at at Greenbelt-based Joseph Greenwald & Laake, declined to comment for this story, citing the confidential nature of the ethics review.
Morhaim has been the subject of an ethics inquiry since a September Washington Post story noted Morhaim’s consulting work with Doctor’s Orders, which had sought a license under the state’s medical marijuana program. 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.
Morhaim had been a leading legislative proponent for the state’s medical marijuana program.
Maloney, speaking two weeks ago, said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. exaggerated the meaning of the hiring of outside counsel when he announced it on Jan. 20.
Miller, while refusing to name the attorney, citing the confidential work of the committee, provided clues to the identity of the lawyer, referring to the person using male pronouns and describing the candidate as a well-known prosecutor.
“What they’ve done is they’ve brought in a high person, very high visibility,” Miller said at the time. “He’s been in place for quite some time now. He’s investigating. It’s in an investigation stage right now.”
Maloney disputed Miller’s description of the outside counsel as needed for investigative purposes. “That is absolutely incorrect,” Maloney said, 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.
In addition to his work as the city’s top prosecutor, Bernstein represented former state Sen. Larry Young during his corruption trial and a legislative ethics review. Young was acquitted of his criminal charges but ultimately expelled from the Maryland Senate.
Bernstein did not respond this week to an email seeking comment about his reported involvement in the legislative review.
Following Miller’s disclosure, The Daily Record filed a request under the Maryland Public Information Act seeking the contract with the outside counsel in effort to determine the name of the attorney as well as how much the state was paying.
That request was denied on the basis of the confidential work of the committee as well as concerns that the contract identified in some way the scope of the work being performed by the attorney. An appeal of that denial is ongoing.