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Carroll commissioners vote to withdraw appeal against state legislative redistricting

ElectionsJustice SystemLocal GovernmentDouglas F. GanslerMartin O'Malley

Two weeks after the Maryland Attorney General filed a motion to have its lawsuit against the state legislative redistricting plan dismissed, the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday took the step themselves — voting to withdrawn the court petition.

According to a release issued by the board June 19, "the majority of the Board of County Commissioners decided to withdraw the petition because it was determined that our suit was duplicative, and therefore not needed to protect the rights of Carroll's citizens."

The release said an email "poll" of the commissioners was conducted on the matter, and that Commissioners Doug Howard and David Roush — both of whom had advocated for the court case — voted to withdraw it.

They were joined by Commissioner Haven Shoemaker, who had opposed the filing from the outset.

Robert Windham, a spokeswoman for the board, said each member was polled in the email. She said Commissioner Robin Frazier — who had also initially opposed the filing — did not respond.

She said Commissioner Richard Rothschild, "appeared willing to pursue the suit further."

On June 7, State Attorney General Doug Gansler filed a motion in the Maryland Court of Appeals asking the court to dismiss the commissioners' suit on the grounds that it had no merit, and that the commissioners had no legal standing to challenge the redistricting plan.

In May, Howard, Roush and Rothschild voted to place their names as commissioners on the appeal against the redistricting plan. The three joined with Dels. Susan Krebs (R-Dist. 9B), Nancy Stocksdale (R-Dist. 5A) and Don Elliott (R-Dist. 4B) on the petition, and instructed County Attorney Tim Burke to file the $50 fee and begin exploring what would be needed for the case.

But in his June 7 motion, Gansler said the Board of County Commissioners has no authority to challenge a state act.

"The Court of Appeals has long held that political subdivisions ... do not have standing to contest the constitutionality, under either federal or state constitution, of any act of the state," Gansler wrote.

In addition, he said that if the commissioners were filing the appeal as private citizens, if was improper for the county attorney to represent them — and equally improper for the county attorney to represent Krebs, Stocksdale and Elliott.

"The county attorney cannot represent them in this matter because an attorney-client relationship does not exist between the county attorney and them as registered voters," Gansler wrote.

In the commissioners' press release announcing the withdrawal of the suit, the commissioners said that after receiving Gansler's motion on June 7, they felt they had 18 days to respond.

But "on June 12, the court advised the county that responses would be due by June 19."

Members decided to vote via email because "the board was not scheduled to meet in open session again until June 21. This tight timing imposed by the court ... made it impossible for the board to reach a decision during an open session and meet the court's deadline."

Windham also said each of the delegates involved also agreed to the withdraw of the petition.

Argument along the lines

At the time they filed the petition, the commissioners said it was based on arguments of "district packing," and that the map approved by the General Assembly violated the premise of "one man, one vote," because some residents would be voting for three delegates, while others will choose only one at the polls.

The plan places all of the 5th legislative district in Carroll County — with one senator and three delegates — but alters the lines so that less of districts 4 and 9 are in Carroll County, and the bulk of those districts are in Frederick and Howard counties.

Opponents have said that means the senators and delegates from those districts will most likely be from those counties.

But in his June 7 motion, Gansler said that's not necessarily so, and he took issue with the suit's claim that the realignment weakens the county's representation.

"Although the enacted plan does not retain the dedicated Carroll County subdistricts found in the 2002 plan, the 2012 plan will still ensure that the House membership includes at least three delegates from Carroll County (in District 5). There is also a possibility that residents from Carroll County could be elected in District 4 and in District 9," he wrote.

"Significantly, it is certainly the case that the number of delegates in the Carroll County Delegation will increase from the current four to nine under the new plan, as all delegates from District(s) 4, 5 and 9 will be members of the (county) delegation."

There are still other petitions filed elsewhere that challenge the legislative redistricting plan, including one filed by citizens from various parts of the state that attempts to make the case that the redistricting committee appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley" packed and stacked" districts not only to weaken Republican votes, but also to consolidate black voters.

That petition, and others, are still alive at the Court of Appeals.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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