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Judge to announce ruling in GOP committee lawsuit

A Carroll County Circuit Court judge said he would rule "soon" on whether a temporary restraining order should be issued prohibiting the Carroll County Republican Central Committee from submitting more than one name for the vacant delegate seat in District 5.

Republican Central Committee members Kathy Fuller, Amy Gilford and Melissa Caudill filed amendments to the lawsuit Tuesday, which names the GOP committee as a whole and Sen. Justin Ready, R-District 5, as defendants.

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"The goal is for the committee to follow the [state] constitution," Gilford said.

The plaintiffs are arguing that the Maryland Constitution requires one name be submitted by the central committee to the governor for any vacancies, however the governor's office has requested three names for each vacancy.

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After hearing arguments Wednesday from attorneys representing the plaintiffs and both defendants, Judge Fred Hecker said he will take the matter under consideration.

Mark Stichel, attorney for the plaintiffs, said the GOP committee is scheduled to meet Thursday to determine the recommendation process as well as how many names they will submit to the governor.

Hecker said he was aware of the time constraints and will issue his judgment soon.

The delegate seat, one of three representing District 5 in Carroll County, was vacated Feb. 2 when Ready accepted Gov. Larry Hogan's appointment as former Sen. Joe Getty's replacement. The committee has begun accepting applications for the seat and have set a Monday, Feb. 16, deadline.

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At Wednesday's hearing, Stichel said the language of the Maryland Constitution is "absolutely clear," and two past attorney general opinions from 1939 and 1977 affirm the plaintiffs' interpretation that the central committee should only recommend one name.

Article 3, Section 13 of the Maryland Constitution states "the Governor shall appoint a person to fill such vacancy from a person whose name shall be submitted to him in writing … by the Central Committee of the political party."

The plaintiffs also argued that Article 8 restricts the governor from interfering with the duty of the central committee to recommend someone to fill a vacant seat and his request for several names constitutes interference.

Article 8 of the Maryland Constitution's Declaration of Rights states that "the Legislative, Executive and Judicial powers of Government ought to be forever separate and distinct from each other; and no person exercising the functions of one of said Departments shall assume or discharge the duties of any other."

Assistant Attorney General Julia Bernhardt, who is representing Ready, said Article 3, Section 13 does not appoint the central committee with any duty enforceable by a temporary restraining order. The only duty accorded in Section 13 is to the governor in appointing someone to fill a vacancy, Bernhardt argued.

Mike Stewart, attorney for the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, said since it has yet to determine a process for recommending one or multiple individuals, the temporary restraining order would be premature.

Stichel reminded the court of Stewart's previous argument on Feb. 2 when he said the timing of that lawsuit had missed its window since Ready had already been appointed. If the plaintiff's request for a temporary restraining order during the hearing Wednesday was premature, Stichel said he doesn't know "when that magic moment is then."

He also said since the central committee has given the plaintiffs no assurance they will wait to determine the process for selecting one or several individuals to fill the vacant seat, the court should issue the restraining order to ensure no "immediate, substantial or irreparable harm" befalls his clients or the general public.

The committee had initially recommended only former County Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier to fill Getty's seat. Later, after public outcry and at the prompting of officials from the governor's Appointments Office to submit three names, the central committee moved to also recommend Ready and Dave Wallace. Fuller, Gilford and Caudill had filed a lawsuit Feb. 2 in Carroll County Circuit Court seeking a temporary restraining order to keep Ready or Wallace from being named to the Senate seat.

The amended lawsuit has dismissed Wallace from the list of defendants. Stichel said Ready was left as a defendant in this case because the court never substantively addressed the propriety of his appointment.

Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or wiley.hayes@carrollcountytimes.com.

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