One day after Del. Tiffany Alston was sentenced in a misconduct case, the Maryland General Assembly's lawyer says she is now suspended from the legislature without pay or benefits.
State prosecutors said Alston's sentencing Tuesday automatically triggered her removal from office, but the first-term Prince George's Democrat and her attorneys disagreed.
In a letter to House Speaker Michael E. Busch on Wednesday, the General Assembly's lawyer sought to clarify Alston's status. "At the moment that sentence was pronounced, the constitutional provision was triggered and Delegate Alston was suspended from her office," wrote Daniel A. Friedman, counsel to the General Assembly.
A spokeswoman for Busch said Busch would follow the advice of Friedman, who works in the attorney general's office.
By law, the Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee has 30 days from Tuesday to forward the name of a temporary replacement for Alston to Gov. Martin O'Malley, according to the letter.
Alston and her attorney Raouf Abdullah said the case is not totally resolved and that Alston would have an opportunity to return to office.
"As far as I'm concerned, I'm suspended, and a suspension is not a removal," Alston said. "I fully expect that once there is no conviction that, yes, I'll be fully reinstated."
Alston struck a last-minute deal with state prosecutors Tuesday to avoid going to trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court on charges involving the use of campaign money to pay some of her wedding expenses.
In June, she was found guilty of misconduct in office and of stealing $800 from the General Assembly to pay an employee of her law firm.
Judge Paul F. Harris Jr. gave Alston a suspended sentence of one year in jail for misconduct in office. Alston also has been ordered to pay $800 in restitution to the General Assembly and complete 300 hours of community service. If Alston meets her obligation to the court, Harris said, he could expunge the finding of guilt in the misconduct case.
Maryland's constitution says an elected official is automatically suspended from office in such a case at the time of sentencing.
If a conviction is reversed or overturned, the official is reinstated. As part of the plea agreement, however, Alston may not appeal her conviction.
But Abdullah suggested that because the judge could wipe out her guilty conviction and replace it with probation before judgment, she could eventually be reinstated to her legislative position.
Alston, 35, was first elected in 2010 and has represented a district primarily inside the Capital Beltway that includes Seat Pleasant and Mitchellville. Once the county central committee forwards a name to the governor, he will have 15 days to select a temporary replacement.
Friedman's letter does not address whether Alston could be reinstated under the terms of her deal with prosecutors.