State treasurer expresses concerns over costly suits, settlements

Bryan P. Sears//February 15, 2023

State treasurer expresses concerns over costly suits, settlements

By Bryan P. Sears

//February 15, 2023

Maryland Treasurer Dereck Davis, left, expressed concern about costly lawsuits and settlements the Board of Public Words has to approve. The Board approved more than $130,000 in payments to settle lawsuits against the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s treasurer called on state agencies to exhibit restraint and avoid costly lawsuits and settlements.

Treasurer Dereck Davis made the comments in response to three settlements before the Board of Public Works. All three payments, totaling more than $130,000 were to settle federal lawsuits against the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services that were filed during the two terms of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

The state Department of Public Safety is on pace to pay out $750,000 in settlements this year, Davis said. That money comes out of the agency’s budget, which the treasurer said amounts to “a slush fund to pay out for agency misbehavior.”

“When we say corrections needs more money, if we could just keep and use some of the money they have, it may lessen some of that need,” said Davis.

The biggest of the three settlements, totaling $92,000, stems from a lawsuit in which a transgender woman alleged she was denied treatments.

In 2017, Amber Maree Canter was incarcerated at the North Branch Correctional Institution in Allegany County.

In her 2017 lawsuit, Canter said she was “diagnosed with gender identity disorder” and had been living as a woman. At the time she was taking hormone therapy medications obtained on the black market.

But at the time of her incarceration, she was denied access to those medications. She attempted suicide as many as 18 times and was forced to obtain the drugs illegally through prison staff. The lack of proper medical supervision caused other medical problems. Canter, in her lawsuit, claimed the department violated her constitutional rights and her treatment amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Canter initially sued seeking nearly $700,000 in punitive and compensatory damages. The $92,000 settlement ends that lawsuit.

The board approved the settlement by a 2-0 vote. Comptroller Brooke Lierman recused herself and left the room during the discussion.

Following the meeting, Lierman said she abstained “out of an abundance of caution” because her husband’s law firm represented the plaintiff.

In a separate settlement, the state will pay Othello Gough $30,000 to resolve a federal lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged he was assaulted by corrections officers.

The state will also pay $12,000 to Eric Poole to settle claims that officers and administrators at the North Branch Correctional Institution prevented him from attending Islamic religious services for nine months and retaliated against him when he filed complaints about his treatment.

In a historic moment, Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller, center, became the first woman of color to chair the Board of Public Works meeting when Gov. Wes Moore recused himself from a vote related to a contract between Under Armour and the Maryland Department of Health. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

In related board news, Gov. Wes Moore also recused himself from a vote related to a contract between Under Armour and the Maryland Department of Health.

Moore, who has holdings in the company, has yet to set up a blind trust to manage his financial affairs related to his holdings prior to his election.

Moore’s departure allowed for a historic moment when Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller acted as chair of the panel and became the first woman of color to chair the panel.

It also marked the first time in roughly two decades that women held two of the three seats on the board. The last time was in March and June of 2002 when then Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend chaired the board and was joined by Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy Kopp.

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