Council, split over court's invalidation of redistricting plan, initiates appeal


A divided County Council told its Rockville attorney yesterday to begin the process to appeal a decision overturning the council's redistricting plan.

But that doesn't mean that the council plans to carry through with the appeal.

Council Chairman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, and Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, see the filing as a means to buy time in which to work out a compromise with County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

Although Mr. Ecker vetoed the plan a year ago, he said recently that it needs only minor adjustments to win his approval.

The architect of the plan, Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, is opposed to that idea. He thinks Mr. Ecker has no role in redistricting and wants the county office of law to take over the case and appeal it to the state's highest court.

Republicans Darrel Drown of the 2nd District and Charles C. Feaga of the 5th District suggest a different tack. They want the council to appoint a four-member committee of two Republicans and two Democrats to review earlier proposals, draw up a districting plan and submit it to the council for approval.

Circuit Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. ruled Nov. 6 that the council redistricting plan approved for the 1994 election is "constitutionally defective and invalid" because it was enacted by resolution rather than by bill.

Bills can be vetoed, but resolutions cannot.

The council adopted the new boundaries in a resolution passed last Dec. 2 by a 3-2 vote along party lines.

A bill identical to the resolution had been vetoed by the county executive.

When the election board accepted the redistricting resolution, Republicans David P. Maier of Elkridge and Louis M. Pope of pTC Laurel sued, saying the plan was illegal. Judge Sybert agreed with them.

Roger W. Titus, the Rockville attorney hired by the council to defend the suit, said in a Nov. 24 letter that he believes "there is a reasonable basis for an appeal" of Judge Sybert's decision.

The issue before the judge was "a matter of law," Mr. Titus said, and "the usual deference given to fact-finding by lower courts will not be applicable." The appeals court would be free to make its own interpretation of the law, he said.

"Without regard to the outcome of the case, it would be desirable to have a ruling of an appellate court one way or another on the issue so that there will not be continuing uncertainty in the decades ahead," Mr. Titus said.

Mr. Titus also recommended that the council take case directly to the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court. The case would probably be appealed or defended there anyway, he told the council.

Such a strategy would save the county several thousand dollars, he said. Going first to the Court of Special Appeals and then to the court of Appeals could cost $23,000 to $34,000, Mr. Titus said. Going directly to the high court could cost $13,000 to $19,000.

Mr. Titus also gave the council a third option favored by Mr. Farragut and Ms. Pendergrass. That option calls for Mr. Titus to file a one-sentence Notice of Appeal. Such an appeal would be relatively inexpensive and would give the council an extra couple of months to decide what to do, Mr. Titus said.

Mr. Titus said he would file the Notice of Appeal Thursday or Friday.

Mr. Gray hopes to persuade his colleagues to have the county office of law take over the case and ask the state highest court to decide it.

"This is clearly an issue that can only be resolved by the judiciary," Mr. Gray said. "The essential question is whether the executive has a role."

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