Solicitor asked to appeal redistricting


County Council Democrats have asked County Solicito Barbara Cook to take over their appeal of a judge's decision invalidating the council's redistricting plan.

Council Republicans are incensed that the decision to invite Ms. Cook into the case appears to have been made without them. Not that their input would have made a difference, since all council votes on the 1994 redistricting plan have been 3-2 along party lines.

What is stirring the ire of Darrel Drown, R-2nd, and Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, is that no vote was taken regarding Ms. Cook.

A Dec. 7 memorandum signed by Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, and Councilmen Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, and C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, tells Ms. Cook the council is requesting that she enter the case as a cost-saving measure.

Mr. Feaga contends that the council cannot make such a request until members vote on it. He has asked that the matter be discussed this morning at the council's monthly meeting to deal with administrative matters.

Ms. Cook, who is legal adviser to both the executive and the council, has not been invited to today's meeting. It was Mr. Gray who suggested that she take over the appeal, and he will be absent.

Ms. Cook said she will be meeting with the council at a later time to discuss her role.

The Democrats' request is ironic in that Ms. Cook had issued a legal opinion before the council redistricting vote saying that redistricting must be done by bill rather than resolution. It was because of that opinion that the council sought outside counsel in the first place.

After Circuit Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. ruled Nov. 6 that the council redistricting plan approved for the 1994 election is "constitutionally defective and invalid," the council had 30 days in which to appeal.

It was the method of enacting the boundaries that Judge Sybert ruled invalid, not the boundaries themselves.

He said the council could not enact new boundaries by means of a resolution.

Bills can be vetoed, but resolutions cannot. The council first sought to enact its districting plan by means of a bill, but County Executive Charles I. Ecker vetoed it. It takes four votes to override a veto, but only three to pass a resolution. Following the veto, the council adopted the boundaries in a resolution, again by a 3-2 vote along party lines.

Republicans David P. Maier of Elkridge and Louis M. Pope of Laurel sued, saying the plan was illegal, and the council hired Rockville attorney Roger W. Titus and others to defend the suit.

Mr. Titus told the council in a Nov. 24 letter that he believes "there is a reasonable basis for an appeal" of Judge Sybert's decision. He recommended that the council take the case directly to the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, a strategy he said would cost $13,000 to $19,000 more in legal fees.

The council has spent $12,923.78 so far.

The council directed Mr. Titus to file notice of appeal, which he did.

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