One of the five judges in the Miss Maryland pageant said he was told to alter his scores in the June 24 contest because pageant officials believed the apparent front-runner was ineligible to win.
David Kendall, a pharmacist in Tulsa, Okla., signed a statement saying he was told by the chief judge three hours before the competition to "reverse the scores" so that Miss Laurel, Linda Yueh, would not win.
He said that he was told by the chief judge that the pageant director, Charles Skinner, had said Ms. Yueh was ineligible to win and "you'll have to change your scores."
Regulations for the Miss America organization prohibit communication with judges during a competition. Mr. Skinner, who lives in Bel Air, did not return calls yesterday.
Mr. Kendall's charge was denied swiftly by the head judge, Mary Lou Lewis -- hours after Miss Yueh, 23, held a tearful news conference to describe how she was jilted on the runway.
"I did not ask anyone to alter anything," Ms. Lewis said, from her home in Oshkosh, Wis. "Frankly, I'm very upset about some things that are being said."
Thomas O'Connell, a lawyer representing the Miss Maryland pageant, said he was puzzled by Mr. Kendall's statement.
"According to the way the pageant is run, the judges are at liberty to give whatever score they want," Mr. O'Connell said. "And that's how it works. The president and the executive director did not tell anyone how to vote. We do not know what went on within the confines of the judges' room."
The squabble is the latest in a controversy over the pageant, which ended with Marcia Griffith being named Miss Maryland while Miss Yueh -- who won preliminary competitions in swimsuit, interview and talent -- finished as first runner-up.
Mr. Kendall said other judges on the night of the pageant also were upset by last-minute questions about Ms. Yueh's eligibility. He said one, Louis J. Garcia of Las Vegas, started to cry in the judges' room during intermission because "he said he had been with the pageant system for 25 years and never ever had anything like this happened before to him."
Four weeks later, the pageant outcome still is drawing an emotional reaction.
Displaying her tiara and a trophy yesterday, Miss Yueh said during a press conference in Washington she believes the pageant was fixed after "rival executive directors" of other pageants in Maryland made false charges against her. She said they charged that she was not a U.S. citizen, had never worked in Washington and was not a resident of the District of Columbia. Competitors for the Miss Maryland title must be residents of the state or of the district.
She also cited rumors of a threatened lawsuit by another contestant and her parents against pageant officials if Ms. Yueh won.
"If I lost fair and square, I could walk away from this," Ms. Yueh said. "But I cannot and will not turn my back on a rigged judging system that cheated myself and other contestants out of fair competition."
Ms. Yueh said her primary residence is Washington, where she is a law student at Georgetown University. But she said she also lives in Cambridge, Mass., where she is a doctoral candidate in public policy at Harvard University. As proof of residency, she gave pageant officials a gym card, library card, bank statements and affidavits from her landlord.
She said she had never been questioned by pageant officials about her residence in the three times that she had competed for the Miss Maryland crown.
Leonard Horn, chief executive officer of the Miss America Organization in Atlantic City, said earlier this week that Mr. Skinner, executive director of the Miss Maryland Pageant, told pageant judges privately that Ms. Yueh was ineligible to win.
Mr. Skinner's actions were inappropriate, Mr. Horn said, but the national pageant will not take action because Mr. Skinner and other pageant officials were in "a panic" when they discovered the residency controversy shortly before the finals were to begin.
Miss Yueh yesterday appealed to Mr. Horn to intervene and require a new Miss Maryland pageant before the Sept. 16 Miss America contest in Atlantic City, N.J.