Baltimore Sun: "A district drawn for
Democrat victories: Experts say passion isn't enough for GOP to defeat
Ruppersberger this Nov." February 29, 2004
Two years ago, the race in Maryland's 2nd Congressional
District was one of the hottest in the country, with popular two-term
Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger battling Republican
stalwart Helen Delich Bentley. The speaker of the House held fund-raisers
for Bentley and promised her a seat on one of the most powerful committees
in Congress, while the Democrats pumped millions of dollars into
television ads to help propel Ruppersberger to victory.
Md. redistricting approved
ANNAPOLIS (AP) - The congressional redistricting plan drawn by Gov. Parris Glendening and the Democratic-controlled legislature prior to the 2002 election has been approved by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The court, based in Richmond, Va., rejected a suit filed by Robert Duckworth, the Republican circuit court clerk for Anne Arundel County.
"Ultimately, (Duckworth) complains simply that more Democrats than Republicans live in his district, and thus that Republican candidates are bound to lose," Judge J. Michael Luttig wrote in a ruling issued last week.
"This outcome is not evidence of discriminatory effect," Luttig wrote. "To the contrary, it is the embodiment of democratic representation: The majority of people selecting their choice of representatives."
The court said there is a difference between gerrymandering based on race and gerrymandering based on political considerations.
Citing a 1986 case, Davis vs. Bandemer, the ruling said that "not all political gerrymandering is unconstitutional."
Glendening's plan, which resulted in election of six Democrats and two Republicans to Congress last November, had been upheld by a lower court judge. But the former governor's legislative redistricting plan was redrawn by the Court of Appeals before the election of the 47 senators and 141 delegates last year.
The commission that regulates Maryland attorneys has decided not to punish Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller over complaints he tried to improperly influence judges considering lawsuits against the state's legislative redistricting map.
Miller said yesterday that the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission has concluded its investigation and declined to file formal charges.
Melvin Hirshman, head of the Attorney Grievance Commission, was unavailable to comment yesterday, but a commission spokeswoman said the case has been closed. No charges were filed and no public report on the matter will be issued, the spokeswoman said.
In May last year, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who then was head of the state Republican Party, asked the commission to investigate telephone calls Miller placed to two appellate court judges about redistricting lawsuits. Republicans also scrutinized contacts five other legislators made at the time to judges on the Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals eventually threw out Gov. Parris N. Glendening's redistricting map, which included input from Miller, and redrew new legislative districts.
Steele alleged that Miller, an attorney with offices in Prince George's County, violated ethical standards required of lawyers by contacting the judges who were to rule on the lawsuits.
Republicans also asked the General Assembly's ethics committee and State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli to investigate the matter.
Montanarelli concluded in September that Miller did not violate any laws. But the Assembly's ethics committee reprimanded the Senate president in August, saying he "abused his position" and "contributed to the erosion of public confidence in the operation of state government."
Though the Attorney Grievance Commission has declined to pursue charges against him, The Washington Post reported Thursday that Miller recently attended a seminar on standards expected of lawyers. Miller said yesterday that he "cannot comment" on whether the commission ordered him to attend the course.
But Miller - who has maintained he did nothing improper -said he was relieved the investigations have come to a close.
"All these complaints were generated by the Republican Party," Miller said. "It was politics. It was before the election. Now the election is over, and we are all trying to get along peacefully."
Steele said yesterday that he also wants to put the matter behind him.
"The grievance commission has made its decision and I support them," Steele said. "Mike and I have had a chance to talk and we're on great terms. That is all I want to say about it."
EASTON - A bill that would amend the state constitution to ensure that consideration is given to providing each county with a resident delegate during the redistricting process has passed the Maryland Senate.
Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-37-Mid-Shore, who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-36-Upper Shore, announced the bill's passage Tuesday night.
SB 472 passed the Senate Friday on a 32-10 vote. The bill now goes to the Maryland House of Delegates for consideration.
The bill is a proposed constitutional amendment that would require, to the greatest extent possible, a legislative district to have a resident delegate for each county. If passed into law, the proposed amendment would go on the 2004 general election ballot for approval or rejection by Maryland voters.
"This is the first time in my 17-year General Assembly history that a bill of this nature has passed out of committee, much less a body of the General Assembly," Colburn said.
Caroline County currently is the only county in Maryland that does not have a resident lawmaker. Somerset County does not have a resident delegate, but is home to Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus.
If approved, the constitutional amendment would add language to the redistricting provisions of the Maryland Constitution to require that consideration be given to having a resident delegate in each county. Districts currently are required to be contiguous, compact, and of substantially equal population.
The constitution also requires due regard be given in the redistricting process to natural boundaries, and the boundaries of political subdivisions. The resident delegate provision would be an addition to the due regard language.
A companion bill, introduced Feb. 10 in the House of Delegates by Dels. Ken Schisler, Addie Eckardt, Michael Smigiel, Richard Sossi and Mary Roe Walkup, is currently in the House rules committee.
It was east side vs. west side yesterday as City Council members engaged in a heated debate over Mayor Martin O'Malley's proposal to redraw city election districts. The west side won.
The council last night approved three minor changes to O'Malley's redistricting proposal by accommodating west-side neighborhoods that asked not to be split into separate election districts. The 12-5 vote -- two members abstained -- advances the bill toward its expected adoption next week.
"If we're going to make some constituents happy on the west side but not on the east side, how do we defend this?" asked Councilwoman Lois A. Garey.
The council has been considering the voter-approved plan to change the council's configuration since O'Malley introduced it Jan. 27. A referendum approved in November replaces the city's six three-member districts with 14 single-member districts. The council and the mayor opposed the plan from the start.
"This is not a process we created," said Councilwoman Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake, co-chairwoman of the council's redistricting committee. "We tried to make the best of a bad situation."
The council held two public hearings last month and heard from several communities. The minor changes approved last night accommodate the request of Harlem Park activists by moving the neighborhood into the new District 11. Part of that west-side community would reside in District 9 under the mayor's plan.
Three other west-side neighborhoods, Windsor Hills, Garwyn Oaks and West Forest Park, would swap places with Medfield and Woodberry to keep each group in one district.
Each of the city's new districts includes about 46,500 people.
Blake said no other such shifts could have been made to accommodate requests from other neighborhoods because the population in the city's eastern half is more spread out.
"Unless we started from scratch, there was nothing we could do on the east side of the city," Blake said. "There was no wiggle room."
Three council members vehemently disagreed. Garey, Lisa Joi Stancil and John L. Cain said Blake and her committee should have held work sessions to ask other council members what they wanted to change on the map.
Blake and her co-chairwoman, Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch, said council members have had nearly two months to study the map and suggest changes within their communities.
"It is incumbent upon you to bring it to our attention," Blake told Cain. "You brought a problem, not a solution."
Council President Sheila Dixon said she had asked council members to express their concerns regarding the map to her.
"No one came to the table and said anything," Dixon said.
Many council members said they did not bother to offer amendments because they assumed that the mayor had enough votes to pass his map.
Garey said unless all changes could be made then none should be approved.
"Don't give me a hard time," Blake said. Garey retorted: "You have no idea of how much of a hard time I can give you."
An exasperated Blake replied: "It's not perfect, but we're trying."
EVERY TWO, four or six years, the voters get to pick the politicians they want. But every 10 years, after a census, the politicians get to pick the voters they want. Or, to be more exact, the most powerful politicians get to pick voters they think will help themselves and their allies and ruin their opponents.
It's called redistricting, and after last year Marylanders know how bad it can get.
A committee chosen by then-governor Parris Glendening devised a Congressional redistricting map for Central Maryland that appeared to be inspired by the looping coils of the small intestine. Anne Arundel County's ridiculous partition into four congressional districts was extended into a second decade.
When it came to state legislative redistricting, the state's ranking Democrats, Mr. Glendening and Senate President Mike Miller, pushed their luck too far. They produced a plan that ignored state constitutional requirements that legislative districts be "compact in form" and give "due regard" to"natural boundaries and boundaries of political subdivisions." The state Court of Appeals had to toss out their map and redraw the lines at the last minute, sowing confusion among candidates and voters.
So, while memories of last year's debacles are still fresh, some area legislators are trying to avoid a repeat performance in 2012.
In a letter elsewhere on this page, two delegates - John Leopold of Pasadena and George Owings of Calvert County, whose district included part of southern Anne Arundel before the last redistricting - explain House Bill 180. (Three other local delegates - Don Dwyer, Herb McMillan and Ted Sophocleus ñ have signed on as co-sponsors).
The bill would set up a 13-member study commission ñ including legislators and members of civic groups - to review the redistricting process and suggest constitutional or legislative changes by the end of 2004.
We wholeheartedly support this idea. The abuses of redistricting have become more blatant and more sophisticated over the years, with the help of computer number-crunching. These abuses undermine the whole idea of representative government.
It's not written anywhere in the Constitution that the pols who have abused the process have to do the initial drafting of redistricting maps. A nonpolitical bureau does this job in Iowa, resulting in more competitive elections. We're hoping a study commission can point the way to similar reforms here. And we think this bill deserves the support of Gov. Robert Ehrlich, whose own party was so recently targeted by blatant redistricting abuses
ANNAPOLIS - A bill drafted by state Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-37-Dorchester, would amend the Maryland Constitution in an effort to increase the chances every county would have a resident serving in the Maryland House of Delegates. Of the state's 24 jurisdictions (Baltimore City and the 23 counties), currently Caroline and Somerset counties have no residents serving in the 141-member House. The 47-member Senate has a Somerset resident - Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, representing the 38th district, is the Republican Minority Leader.
Section 4 of Article III (Legislative Department) of the state constitution states, "Each legislative district shall consist of adjoining territory, be compact in form, and of substantially equal population. Due regard shall be given to natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions." Colburn's bill would add the words "and to ensure, to the greatest extent practicable, that every county has a resident delegate."
The bill would require approval by three-fifths of the members of both the House and the Senate. Then the proposed amendment would have to be approved by voters in the November 2004 election in a statewide referendum.
Colburn said he has tried to figure a way to adjust the language of the constitution "a good 20 years" to require each county to have a resident delegate. But, he said, "we can't mandate it."
Del. Richard Sossi, R-36-Queen Anne's, said maybe the constitution can be amended to say due regard shall be given to natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions, "but not to the exclusion" of guaranteeing every county a resident delegate.
The time to make sure every county has a resident delegate is during the redistricting process, said Del. Norman Conway, D-38B-Wicomico. He said the primary goal of redistricting should be "that every county will get a representative in the House."
Redistricting is done once every 10 years following the federal census. Last year, the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned Gov. Parris Glendening's legislative redistricting plan and ordered a new plan drawn up.
Colburn said the plan offered by former Sen. Walter Baker of Cecil County in 2001 would have gotten a resident delegate for Caroline County. Baker's plan called for four legislative districts on the Eastern Shore, including one that included Caroline and Queen Anne's counties and a portion of Anne Arundel County. A committee that drafted the Glendening redistricting plan rejected Baker's proposal, in part because it would create a district that crossed the Chesapeake Bay.
If population trends continue, Colburn said he is optimistic the Eastern Shore will have four legislative districts when the next legislative map is drawn, following the 2010 census. But Sen. Stoltzfus said he thinks there will be more population growth in southern Maryland.
"I think it's essential that every county have a resident delegate," said Del. Mary Roe Walkup, R-36-Kent. She said it should be addressed during the redistricting process, and counties should not be split between legislative districts.
With both Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner and Maryland Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. facing major budget shortfalls and legislatures controlled by the opposing party, redistricting isn't at the top of either's agenda. The next round of drawing boundaries for state and federal legislative offices is seven years off, after all, so why think about it now with more pressing business at hand? Yet both men would do their states a great service by thinking ahead and pushing for reform early. Both represent parties -- the Democrats in Virginia, the Republicans in Maryland -- that were the victims of gross gerrymandering during the last round of redistricting. The result is that both states have less competitive legislative districts than they should. Mr. Warner and Mr. Ehrlich both know what it means to have the political decks stacked against them, and both could be excellent advocates for a fairer system.
Redistricting, which follows the census every decade, should be an opportunity to make districts competitive and, thereby, to hold incumbents accountable despite the changing demographics of a state. In most states, however, legislatures seek to protect incumbency and to lock in the advantage of the party in power by drawing as many safe seats for that party as possible. Members accomplish this by crowding voters of the other party into densely packed safe districts -- the result being that districts become either more liberal or more conservative than the population at large, and the center grows weaker. Both Maryland and Virginia last time around experienced ugly redistricting fights: Democrats in Maryland squeezed Rep. Constance A. Morella out of her seat, for example, while Virginia Republicans packed minority voters into noncontiguous districts. Nobody knows in either state which party will be in power to abuse the process next time. But absent reform, it will surely happen again -- and one certain loser will be the public.
There is an alternative to redistricting as a zero-sum partisan game. In Iowa, a nonpolitical bureau takes a first crack at redistricting using only apolitical demographic data. The idea is to produce compact districts and to keep political communities intact. And Iowa districts are significantly more competitive than the national norm. Mr. Warner, at least, seems to know that this is the direction in which to go. According to his spokesman, Kevin Hall, he considered the problem when Democrats were challenging the Republican redistricting plan last year. "At that point, the governor thought out loud, 'My God, there's got to be a better way to do this.' And he thought about Iowa and some other states that have tried to take the partisanship out." Just the other day, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine wrote an op-ed article advocating redistricting reform. But while it is a subject on the administration's mind, Mr. Hall says the issue is not one Mr. Warner will push this year. He should -- as should Mr. Ehrlich. If they act now, while it is still unclear whom reform would help and hurt, good government will have a chance. But once the blinders come off as the next round approaches, reform will become all but impossible.
State Sen. Robert R. Neall yesterday defended his decision to send a letter to a judge charged with making recommendations on a legislative redistricting plan.
"I think that I was ethically correct," the Davidsonville Democrat told the 12-member Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics during a hearing in Annapolis. "I don't think there was anything I did that was wrong or improper.
"I honestly believe I acted in good faith with a clean heart and was trying to help my constituents."
Mr. Neall was one of six Democratic lawmakers called before the General Assembly's ethics committee yesterday to defend themselves against Republican charges that they violated ethical standards by contacting judges who were considering the constitutionality of the plan.
"These charges are totally false," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George's, said before testifying at a closed session of the committee. "They've hurt me personally, my family, my constituents."
The inquiry resulted from a disclosure by the Court of Appeals that Mr. Miller and Sens. Ida Ruben of Montgomery County, Ulysses Currie of Prince George's County and Clarence Blount of Baltimore had called judges while they were considering legal challenges to the legislative districts drawn by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Also named in the complaint -- filed in June by state GOP Chairman Michael S. Steele, now Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s running mate -- was Mr. Neall.
He and Del. Ruth Kirk, D-Baltimore, who also was called before the committee, wrote letters complaining about the way lines were drawn in their districts.
Mr. Neall sent a letter to Judge Robert L. Karwacki, the special master assigned to hear the redistricting lawsuits and make recommendations on them to the full Court of Appeals.
Mr. Neall asked Judge Karwacki to consider returning precinct 7-14 near Crofton to the 33rd District, which Mr. Neall represents. The precinct was moved under the redistricting plan into District 23A, which consists mostly of Prince George's County residents.
"I just wanted to make sure these 2,900 people didn't get lost in the shuffle," Mr. Neall told the committee.
He was one of three lawmakers who asked his hearing be open to the public.
Judge Karwacki never responded to the letter, but he rejected most of the lawsuits and recommended the full court uphold virtually the entire redistricting plan.
The full court later rejected Judge Karwacki's recommendations, finding the map unconstitutional.
The court redrew the districts itself. Its plan, which is now law, returned precinct 7-14 to Mr. Neall's district.
Mr. Neall, who was grilled by committee members about his motivation in sending the letter, stressed he did not send the letter to Court of Appeals judges, simply to their designee.
He also pointed out he sent the letter after discussing it with a lawyer in the attorney general's office.
The ethics committee can take a wide range of disciplinary action against the lawmakers, from doing nothing or reprimanding them to trying to expel them. There was no word on when the panel would make a decision on the complaint.
Before a court-ordered redistricting plan turned them against each other, state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman of Baltimore was a strong backer of Del. Lisa A. Gladden, the public defender who is considered one of Baltimore's rising legislative stars.
How strong? Hoffman wrote a $1,000 check to Gladden's re-election campaign in the spring, after the close of the General Assembly session.
"I really do try to mentor young women," said Hoffman, 62, the chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
But the Court of Appeals' legislative map placed Hoffman and Gladden, 37, in the same district in Northwest Baltimore. When Sen. Clarence W. Blount announced his retirement, Gladden - with the support of much of the city's African-American political leadership - decided to challenge Hoffman in the reconfigured 41st District.
So Hoffman has asked for her money to be returned.
"I wrote her a little letter that said, 'Under the circumstances, you should give it back,'" Hoffman said. "That would be the honorable thing to do."
Honorable, perhaps. But practical? Unclear.
According to the most recent campaign finance reports, filed in November, Hoffman had more than $200,000 in available cash, compared with about $19,000 for Gladden. So it's not surprising that with a competitive race, Gladden hasn't responded to the request yet.
"I haven't gotten it back," Hoffman said yesterday.
A July 2 news story about Michael S. Steele's selection as Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s running mate said, "[Mr.] Steele scored what Maryland Republicans describe as the party's first major victory in a very long time" by overturning the legislative redistricting map drawn by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Democratic leaders.
Mr. Steele's lawsuit, which called for single-member districts, was not successful. The successful lawsuits that resulted in a decrease in the number of cross-jurisdictional districts in both Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties were filed by Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. and Dels. Jacob J. Mohorovic, Joseph J. Minnick and John Arnick of Baltimore County and Del. John R. Leopold of Anne Arundel County.
Maryland's highest court threw out Gov. Parris N. Glendening's legislative redistricting map yesterday and pledged to redraw the state's political boundaries, free of partisan meddling, in time for September's primary elections.
The Maryland Court of Appeals ruling said "significant portions" of the map violated the state Constitution because the circuitous boundaries of several districts cut across county lines or leapt over natural barriers and split long-standing communities.
The decision stunned Maryland's top elected officials, who were counting on the new lines to secure an even broader Democratic majority in races for the state's 188 General Assembly seats. Politicians and the attorneys who brought the case against Glendening's plan called yesterday's order astounding.
"I'm still in a state of shock," said state Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Baltimore County), a 40-year member of the legislature whose district was shattered by the governor's map. Yesterday, his prospects for reelection were instantly revived.
"This is unprecedented. It's what should have happened," said M. Albert Figinski, a 30-year veteran of redistricting battles who is representing Stone and another senator. "It's wonderful news for people who believe in an impartial judiciary. And it's wonderful news for people who believe in the Maryland Constitution."
The governor's office issued a subdued response to the ruling, criticizing the court for failing to outline specific objections to the plan. Glendening (D) defended the map he devised with help from legislative leaders.
"Great effort was taken to ensure that each district fairly and accurately represented the interests of its citizens and caused as little disruption throughout the state as possible," Glendening said in a statement.
A separate map for congressional districts is not affected by the decision.
Redistricting maps routinely meet with court challenges in Maryland and across the country. This year, courts have thrown out legislative maps in a half-dozen states, primarily because of state constitutional concerns, said Tim Storey, a redistricting expert with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Among the casualties: the Republican-drawn map in Virginia, where a Circuit Court judge in March nearly forced new elections for the General Assembly. The state Supreme Court stayed that ruling and is expected to review the plan this year.
In Maryland, the Court of Appeals has resisted making sweeping changes to political boundaries. The court invalidated a governor's map only once before, in 1972. During a hearing Monday, the judges indicated that they would act only reluctantly, because even small changes could require them to shift lines across the entire state.
Yesterday's order, signed by Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, asks attorneys in the case to recommend mapping experts by tomorrow to help the court devise a new plan.
The redistricting dispute already has forced the state to delay the filing deadline for state candidates by a week, to July 8, and Bell has indicated that he has no desire to further disrupt this year's elections.
But Secretary of State John T. Willis said the notion that the court could quickly whip up a new map is "naive."
"This is extraordinarily complex," he said. "We saw thousands of pages of exhibits, we reviewed a mountain of data and a forest worth of paper."
Willis warned that the court could inadvertently create problems with every change. One worry, he said, is that new lines would violate federal laws that require minorities to be adequately represented in Annapolis.
State leaders also are concerned that the court may not draw districts to maintain Democratic dominance, particularly in Republican-leaning eastern Baltimore County.
The redistricting process, a State House ritual that occurs once each decade to account for population changes revealed by the U.S. Census, began almost exactly a year ago. But the process didn't get rocky until April, when the Court of Appeals cast doubt on the plan's validity and ordered it be reviewed by a special master.
In May, Bell revealed that he and other judges had been contacted by four state senators, including longtime Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), who wanted to discuss the redistricting case. Last week, the Republican Party asked the court to launch criminal contempt proceedings against them and a fifth senator who wrote a letter to the special master in the case, accusing them of conspiring to corrupt the judicial process.
The court has yet to act on that request. But Republicans said yesterday that the court's decision to throw out the Democratic plan will go a long way toward restoring public faith that the court was not influenced by political pressure.
Yesterday's order revived complaints the court first voiced 10 years ago, when then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D) began pulling population from Baltimore County into Baltimore senatorial districts. Schaefer was trying to preserve the city's political clout in Annapolis and protect incumbents as the city lost population.
A five-member majority let the plan stand, but chastised the state for coming "perilously close" to invalidation.
This time, the state's map made even more incursions across county lines, primarily to protect Democratic incumbents.
Although Baltimore's population of 650,000 would support five city-based senators, the map sets up seats for eight. And old lines that once had Baltimore County divided up among seven senators have been replaced by borders that leave the county represented by 12 senators.
Stone said the new map had residents of his Baltimore County district represented by four different senators and 12 delegates.
"I filed this suit because I didn't want to see those communities broken up," he said.
At Monday's hearing, Bell appeared annoyed that the state had not heeded the court's 1992 warning, asking the state's lawyer: "What does perilously close to unconstitutional mean to you?"
As for Miller, the state tailored a district that includes pieces of Prince George's, Charles, Calvert and Anne Arundel counties -- the first four-county district in state history outside the rural reaches of the Eastern Shore.
Miller has repeatedly defended his plan as the best way to deal with Southern Maryland's fast-growing population.
But attorneys for Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) called it the most egregious constitutional violation in the state, arguing that the new district was white enough to give Miller an advantage over a black challenger in the Democratic primary, but black enough to allow Miller to survive against a Republican in the general election.
Compared with redistricting a decade ago, the new plan "pays much less respect to county borders and is even more protective of a set of favored white Democratic incumbents at the expense of the law," said Curry's attorney, Sam Hirsch. "Today, the court said: 'Enough.'"
The Maryland Court of Appeals should name the Anne Arundel County state's attorney to investigate whether four Democratic state senators illegally tried to influence judges' decisions in a big redistricting case, state Republican Party Chairman Michael S. Steele said yesterday.
Steele made the request in a petition filed with the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court. The petition accuses the senators of "a bald systematic effort to entice the judges of this court to participate in judicial misconduct."
In an interview, Steele said the filing was needed because no prosecutor has come forward to review the matter, in which Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and three other senators were identified by the court as having contacted judges to talk about legislative redistricting.
Steele said such contacts with judges should be condemned as "criminal contempt" and should trigger "a full and complete investigation."
David Paulson, a state Democratic spokesman, called Steele's petition "attack-style politics."
"We know what this is about, and the Republican Party had no shame," Paulson said. He said Steele "knows this is a charge that can't go very far because there is no crime."
The calls to the judges came as the court is weighing legal challenges to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's redistricting plan for the General Assembly. District lines are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population shifts.
Miller and three other senators - Clarence W. Blount of Baltimore, Ida G. Ruben of Montgomery County and Ulysses Currie of Prince George's County - have been identified by the court as having spoken to judges about redistricting.
In every instance, the judges reported cutting off the conversations as soon as it became apparent the lawmakers wanted to discuss redistricting, and they said none of the contacts will influence their pending decisions.
The lawmakers said they don't believe they did anything wrong. In several cases, they said they were simply seeking information on how the legal process worked.
"The law in Maryland is quite clear," Paulson said. "The onus for ex parte communications is on the judge. It's the judge who has to say, 'This is improper.'"
Steeleís petition says legal precedent establishes that efforts by nonparties to influence the court are considered contempt.
Maryland's highest court yesterday revealed that a fourth Democratic senator contacted a judge about legislative redistricting, broadening a controversy over the political map that will define State House elections for the next decade.
In an unprecedented announcement two weeks ago, the court said Democratic lawmakers had spoken with four Court of Appeals judges who will rule on lawsuits challenging the Democrats' redistricting plan. Yesterday, Chief Judge Robert M. Bell said he had "overlooked" yet another contact: a March 8 meeting with Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount (Baltimore).
The veteran senator invited Bell to his office without telling him the purpose of the meeting, according to a memo from the court released yesterday. Bell said that when Blount began talking about redistricting, Bell "declined to discuss the matter and left the office."
The memo was issued after The Washington Post yesterday requested an interview with Bell to ask about his meeting with Blount. Through a spokeswoman, the judge declined to comment.
The Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct forbids contact between judges and those who have an interest in a pending case. The disclosures have prompted angry denunciations of the Democrats by Maryland Republicans, who have demanded that the disciplinary board for lawyers, the State Ethics Commission and the legislature's ethics committee investigate.
The court is considering the constitutionality of a plan prepared by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) that determines the configuration of legislative districts in Maryland. The final plan will determine the political futures of dozens of candidates. Republicans and some Democrats have challenged the proposal, saying it protects incumbents and is unfair to minorities.
On May 17, the court reported that three Democratic senators, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. of Prince George's County, called four judges to talk about the case.
Yesterday's memo from the court said that "at that time Chief Judge Robert M. Bell had overlooked a meeting with Senator Clarence Blount."
Republicans said the latest disclosure offers further proof that Democratic state leaders had plotted to lobby the court to approve the governor's redistricting plan and could undermine public faith in the court's ultimate decision.
"There clearly was an orchestrated effort to put pressure on the court," said Michael Steele, the state Republican chairman. Blount is "the majority leader of the Senate. He reports to Mike Miller. He has a meeting with the chief judge about redistricting. Connect the dots.
"It raises doubts about the integrity of the process," he said. "What other contacts were out there that weren't remembered?"
Blount did not respond to telephone messages. Miller, who has previously said he was not trying to influence the judges, refused to comment.
The court has provided virtually no details about the contacts but has said they will not influence how the judges rule. The court is expected to rule on the redistricting plan by the end of June, in time for the July 8 filing deadline for candidates.
The initial memo outlining the contacts was unprecedented, lawyers said. It prompted Attorney General J. Joseph Curran (D) to notify legislators that they must not contact the judges about redistricting.
Miller, who is a practicing lawyer, could face an inquiry from the state Attorney Grievance Commission. Officials there said that lawyers who attempt to contact judges about pending cases are potentially violating at least two rules of attorney conduct that could lead to sanctions.
Maryland Republicans stepped up their criticism yesterday of efforts by Democratic legislators to talk to appellate judges considering lawsuits against the governor's redistricting plan.
Some in the GOP even charged that redistricting decisions made by the Court of Appeals will be politically tainted, despite a written statement from the judges that they feel they can be fair.
Maryland's Attorney Grievance Commission made clear that it has the authority to initiate an investigation of possible improper actions by lawyers. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who is a lawyer, is one of four lawmakers who contacted judges about redistricting.
"We can initiate complaints ... that might result from something we read in the newspapers or something that comes to our attention from some other source," said Melvin Hirshman, bar counsel for the commission. The commission is not allowed to discuss specific investigations.
Miller and two other senators - Ida G. Ruben of Montgomery County and Ulysses Currie of Prince George's - were identified by the court this week as having called judges to talk about redistricting. Del. Ruth M. Kirk of Baltimore wrote a letter to the chief judge, the court said in its one-page statement.
Currie and Ruben serve on the Senate subcommittee that oversees the judiciary's budget. Ruben refused to say yesterday whether her call to a judge who is a longtime friend was at Miller's request. Neither Miller nor Currie returned phone messages yesterday.
The judges reported cutting off the conversations as soon as it became apparent the legislators sought to discuss redistricting.
The Court of Appeals is deciding 14 legal challenges to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's General Assembly redistricting plan. A special master recommended Tuesday that all but one of the lawsuits be rejected, calling for small modifications to two districts on the Eastern Shore.
In a news conference yesterday outside the State House, Republicans sharply criticized Miller and said the court should produce more specifics about what the lawmakers said and wrote.
Del. Alfred W. Redmer Jr., a Baltimore County Republican and House minority leader, said he hopes the judges were not influenced, but believes their decision "will never, ever pass the smell test on Main Street."
Both of the leading candidates for governor - Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend - called the lawmakers' actions improper yesterday.
Ehrlich said the contacts "cross very serious ethical lines." A spokesman for Townsend said she "believes everyone should absolutely follow the rules and regulations."
A spokeswoman for Glendening said the governor believes the actions of the legislators "were inappropriate."
The state's Republican Party could decide as soon as today whether to file complaints or additional lawsuits related to the Democratic legislators' actions, said GOP party Chairman Michael S. Steele.
Four Democratic legislators contacted members of Maryland's highest court in attempts to discuss pending lawsuits challenging the governor's redistricting plan, according to judges.
Legal experts described the contacts - two of them by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller - as improper.
The contacts were disclosed in a notice the Court of Appeals sent to parties to the lawsuits Friday. The statement outlines telephone calls by Miller, Sen. Ida G. Ruben of Montgomery County and Sen. Ulysses Currie of Prince George's County to four appellate judges, as well as a letter sent by Del. Ruth M. Kirk of Baltimore to Chief Judge Robert M. Bell.
The court said none of the phone calls was anticipated by the judges involved. The notice also said that in each case, as soon as it became clear that the subject was redistricting, the judge informed the legislator that he or she could not discuss the case.
Bell did not finish reading Kirk's letter and had it returned to her, the notice said.
"Each of these contacts was reported by the judge to the court," the notice concluded. "In no instance did, or will, the contact have any influence or bearing on how the judge, or the court, will respond to the issues pending before it."
Sally Rankin, a spokesman for Maryland's judiciary, said the notice was apparently unprecedented.
News of the contacts came the same day that a special master considering the redistricting lawsuits, retired Judge Robert L. Karwacki, issued an opinion upholding the governor's plan in most respects. He found that changes should be made in two Eastern Shore districts.
State Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. issued a memo yesterday to all General Assembly members urging them not to attempt to contact judges about redistricting cases. He said the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct bars judges from considering any communications from legislators regarding pending litigation.
Asked for comment yesterday, Miller, Ruben and Kirk all denied doing anything improper. Currie did not return phone messages seeking details of his call to Bell.
A leading expert on legal ethics called the issue "a no-brainer."
"This is really a question of judicial ethics," Sherman L. Cohn, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. "Judges should not be contacted by a party or by any outside person about a case that is pending. The judges handled it absolutely right."
Michael S. Steele, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, said that in the case of Miller - who is a lawyer - GOP officials are considering lodging a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission.
Cohn said a legislator who is a lawyer could be disciplined for going directly to a judge on a pending case.
"They should be investigating this right now," Cohn said. "If he is a lawyer and he did that, that's a violation for legal ethics."
Miller said his contacts with Judges Alan M. Wilner and Glenn T. Harrell Jr. did not involve a pending issue.
He said he contacted the judges to complain about a decision they had already handed down on who would bear the burden of proof before a special master considering the lawsuits. Miller said the court was wrong when it put the burden on the state to prove the redistricting law is constitutional.
"There's nothing wrong with speaking to a judge about a case that is over," said Miller, of Prince George's County. "I just told them what I thought about an order that's been rendered."
Miller, who has often clashed with leaders of the judicial branch, described the notice issued by the court as "a love note to me from Judge Bell." The two men have frequently been at odds over a variety of issues, including judicial pay.
The contacts by Miller and the other Democrats prompted a vigorous protest yesterday by Republican Party leaders. They said the telephone calls and letter raised suspicions that the legislators were trying to influence the outcome of the cases.
"The fact that they contacted four judges to me raises some questions," Steele said at a hastily called news conference. "I think it was somewhat orchestrated. They divided up the judges amongst themselves."
Miller dismissed the GOP complaints. "This is all power politics on the part of the Republican Party," he said. "This is Michael Steele at his best."
Like Miller, Ruben denied there was any coordinated effort to influence the court. She portrayed her phone conversation with Judge Irma S. Raker as an innocent inquiry.
The senator said that while talking with Raker, a longtime friend, more than a month ago she asked whether it would be appropriate to discuss redistricting with her.
"She said it's inappropriate, and I said fine," Ruben said. "I was just going to ask her what was the time frame, what the process was."
Kirk said she is not a lawyer and did know there was anything wrong about writing a letter to a judge about the governor's redistricting plan.
"They can say what they want to say. Republicans always say what they want to say anyway," she said.
Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican, joined Steele at his news conference. He expressed concern that the three senators were tampering with the lawsuits seeking changes in the redistricting plans. He noted that two of the senators, Currie and Ruben, sit on the Budget and Taxation Committee.
"These senators have a big say in the budget of the judiciary, so there are just layers and layers of levels of concern that are raised by this memo from the court," Flanagan said.
The four judges did not return phone calls seeking details of the communications. Rankin said neither the court nor its seven judges would have anything to say beyond the notice.
Judge Andrew L. Sonner of Maryland's second highest court, the Court of Special Appeals, called the lawmakers' communications "surprising" but said the judges handled the matter correctly.
"It seems to me that their response was totally appropriate," Sonner said. "You say, 'Stop talking about that in my presence.' You can't assume that everybody who calls you has a refined sense of ethics."