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Best Week, Worst Week: ‘Peace Cross’ supporters win in high court; Md. delegate hit with lawsuit

best-worst-062219Supporters of the “Peace Cross” in Bladensburg were rewarded by the Supreme Court this week, while a Maryland legislator faces time in court after failing to deliver on the promise of a paying job for a legislative aide.

Legal affairs writer Steve Lash reported the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled a 40-foot cross erected as a war memorial on public land in 1925 does not violate the constitutional separation of church and state and can remain standing. Supporters, including Gov. Larry Hogan, hailed the decision as “a great victory” in recognition of the valor, endurance, courage and devotion of World War I veterans.

The justices’ splintered 7-2 ruling overturns a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ 2-1 decision in October 2017 that the cross “has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion” in violation of the First Amendment.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for a simple five-member majority in saying that, although the cross is undoubtedly a Christian symbol, that fact alone should not supersede what it had come to represent, a symbolic resting place for ancestors who never returned home. In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the cross cannot be regarded as secular because of its status as the foremost symbol of the Christian faith and that displays of it on public land, even to venerate a nation’s war dead, violate the Constitution’s prohibition on governmental establishment, or promotion, of religion.

The American Legion, which appealed the 4th Circuit’s decision to the justices, said the high court’s ruling was not just about a single cross but about the right of a community to honor its fallen heroes.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which also appealed the 4th Circuit’s ruling, said it was “extremely gratified that our legal battle to protect the community’s interest in this historic symbol prevailed.”

Meanwhile, Del. Hasan “Jay” Jalisi was hit with a lawsuit this week from a former aide seeking back wages and damages.

Government affairs writer Bryan P. Sears reported Tuesday that, according to the lawsuit, Jalisi knowingly promised his former aide, Brian Agandi, an hourly rate of $20 per hour to be paid by the Maryland General Assembly, despite the fact the Baltimore County Democrat was barred from hiring aides until he completed required anger management classes before the start of the 2019 General Assembly session.

Agandi said he quit his security guard job and worked 32-hour weeks for Jalisi in January and was never paid, despite Jalisi’s repeated assurances that a paycheck was coming.

The former aide is seeking $2,670 in back pay as well as punitive damages of $27,379 “for the intentional and malicious acts carried out by Delegate Jalisi” as well as more than $7,800, treble damages for Jalisi’s violation of state labor and employment laws.

The lawsuit follows an action in March where the House of Delegates voted unanimously to reprimand Jalisi for a pattern of abusive behavior and acts of bullying directed at his own staff and others. A report issued by the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics detailed five years of incidents dating back to when Jalisi was sworn into office in his first term and to multiple attempts to get the recalcitrant delegate to change his ways.

Jalisi in comments earlier this year denied the allegations, calling them “a smear campaign.” He added that none of the complaints that were part of the investigation came from his personal staff who has worked for him day-in and day-out for months and years.