State police to pay $600k legal fees in racial profiling suit

A Baltimore County judge has again ordered Maryland State Police to reimburse civil liberties groups nearly $600,000 in legal fees over a long-running court battle over racial profiling, according to the ACLU and the law firm that assisted the group in the case.

The Maryland ACLU touted the court order as a victory for the right to public information.


"This ruling sends a strong message to government officials, particularly law enforcement, that transparency and accountability is vital to a healthy relationship with the communities they serve," Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP branches, said in a statement.

Judge Timothy J. Martin had ruled that police had to cover the legal fees in March, but police asked him to reconsider. This week, Martin affirmed his ruling.


"To require the NAACP to underwrite on its own the expenses to secure performance by the MSP of providing these documents ordered by this court six years ago and ultimately ordered by the Court of Appeals is a discomfiting concept to the court," Martin wrote, according to the ACLU.

State police did not respond to a request for comment.

The case stems from litigation that began in the early 1990s.

In 2003, the NAACP and state police entered into a consent decree in which police agreed to improve the process for motorists to file racial-profiling complaints. The case became known as the "driving while black" lawsuit, and $400,000 was awarded to six plaintiffs.

The state police made sweeping changes in traffic-stop procedures as part of the consent decree, including documenting the race of drivers stopped and obtaining written permission before searching vehicles. Over a four-year period, police determined that none of the complaints were substantiated.

The ACLU and NAACP wanted more information and sought detailed records but were blocked. State police referred to them as "personnel records" that were exempt from disclosure under state law.

Even though Martin ruled in 2008 that the civil rights organizations would be given access to the documents, the ACLU said it was stymied in trying to obtain additional records.

In January 2013, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that state police had to turn over the records.


Seth Rosenthal, an attorney with the Venable law firm who has been involved with the litigation since 2007, said the government should take note of Martin's ruling when fighting records requests.

"If a state agency is simply obstinate about producing records that the law clearly requires it to produce, the courts are going to require it to pay," he said in an interview. "And the requirement that they pay fees should act as a disincentive to flout the law and refuse to disclose records."