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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Md. appeals court rejects challenge to Baltimore liquor board changes

The Courts of Appeal building in Annapolis. (The Daily Record File)

The Courts of Appeal building in Annapolis. (The Daily Record File)

A challenge to a 2016 law that stripped the governor of his power to appoint commissioners to the Baltimore City Liquor License Board has been rejected by the state’s second highest court.

Douglas Trotter and Dale Watkins appealed an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court decision that threw out their May 2016 lawsuit.

Howard J. Schulman, a partner at Wright, Constable and Skeen and the attorney for Trotter and Watkins, disagreed with the decision and said appealing the case to the Court of Appeals is being considered.

“The thrust of our case is that there’s this meddling and interfering by the legislature in the governor’s appointment powers,” Schulman said. “That seems to be a constant theme these days. The courts need to step up to the plate.”

Schulman said the Court of Special Appeals decision is “a way of ducking the issue of whether this is a parliamentary dictatorship as if this were the Roundheads in England.”

The decision was welcomed by the Office of the Attorney General.

“We’re pleased with the outcome,” said Raquel Guillory Coombs, a spokeswoman for the office.

Trotter, who was appointed to the board by Gov. Larry Hogan, and Watkins, who owns an interest in a city bar, sued as taxpayers arguing that the new law was unconstitutional. The pair also sought an injunction.

But Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge William C. Mulford last fall granted a motion by lawyers for state and city officials seeking to dismiss the suit.

Mulford ruled that Trotter and Watkins lacked standing. The judge also said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and Speaker Michael E. Busch were entitled to legislative immunity.

He ultimately ruled the 2016 law was constitutional.

“We agree that the Citizens lack standing, and we affirm the circuit court on that ground,” Court of Special Appeals Judge Douglas R.M. Nazarian wrote in a unanimous unreported opinion for the three-judge panel.

Trotter alleged in the 2016 suit that the law, sponsored by Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore City, unconstitutionally removed him from office after he was appointed by the governor.

The suit named Hogan, Miller, Busch, then-Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Council President Bernard C. Jack Young, City Liquor Board Chairman Albert J. Matricciani Jr, as well as board commissioners Aaron J. Greenfield and Dana P. Moore, as defendants.

Trotter and Watkins alleged that Senate Bill 1159 violated the separation of powers provision because the Senate has an advice and consent role only on appointments made while the legislature is in session. The Senate Executive Nominations Committee routinely weighs in on so-called interim appointments in the legislative session following an individual appointment.

Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore City and chair of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, proposed the legislation during the dispute over Hogan’s appointments. The bill imposed a 15-day timeline for Hogan to make new appointments or cede that power to the mayor and Baltimore City Council, with advice and consent of the Senate.

The lower court disagreed and additionally ruled that Trotter was not an aggrieved party because his appointment was rejected by the full Senate and therefore he no longer served on the board.

“We disagree with whether we met the (taxpayer) standard,” Schulman said. “We think we met the threshold of the cases. It’s not in the public interest for the courts to impose these additional hurdles.”



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