Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and the head of the Maryland State Police have agreed to settle the racial profiling lawsuit against the state, an agreement that advocates say could have nationwide implications and change the nature of traffic stops in Maryland.
The Board of Public Works is scheduled to vote on the settlement Wednesday. Ehrlich delayed that vote when he took office so his administration could make changes in the proposed agreement, which was negotiated by the Glendening administration.
"The Ehrlich administration entered this dealing in the 23rd hour, and we're pleased we'll now bring this case to a close to the satisfaction of all involved parties," Shareese N. Deleaver, a spokeswoman for the governor, said yesterday. "We're confident that our [goal] of ensuring the safety of Maryland motorists and law enforcement officers will be fulfilled."
However, lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing minority motorists who say in the class action lawsuit that troopers stopped them because of their race, declined to comment on the deal yesterday.
Originally, the public works board was to vote in January on the proposed settlement after years of negotiations with Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration. The vote was deferred at Ehrlich's request.
Recently, the two sides have been going back and forth over clarifications to the agreement. The last-minute dealing has made lawyers in the case, including Ehrlich's legal adviser, especially cautious about declaring they have an agreement until the board votes.
Still, state minority leaders said yesterday they have planned a party Wednesday to celebrate a settlement that has been more than a decade in the making.
"This agreement is a national model, and I'm proud to be a Marylander because the police and drivers can coexist on the road without the fear of needless stops and searches," said state Sen. Lisa A. Gladden.
Placement of the item on the board's agenda indicates that the settlement will have the support of at least two members of the three-member board: Ehrlich and state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.
Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, who has expressed reservations about the proposed settlement, said yesterday he planned to review the changes to the consent decree this weekend.
If approved - two of three votes would pass it - the consent decree would establish an advisory panel to monitor reports of racial profiling.
Troopers would be required to have written permission from motorists to search vehicles and would hand out pamphlets with information about how motorists can file complaints.
State police also would agree to install more cameras in patrol cars to record stops.
Board approval is required to pay $325,000 in plaintiff legal fees as part of the settlement with the motorists and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which is a party to the lawsuit.
Ehrlich and Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Edward T. Norris sought several pages of changes to clarify the original agreement, some of which were accepted. For example, the brochure troopers will distribute will be more comprehensive than first proposed.
"It will have more information than how to make a complaint against an officer," Norris said yesterday, confirming he had agreed to the settlement.
He said that under the revised agreement, troopers would collect more data about traffic stops. "I always agreed with the spirit of the settlement," Norris said. "Most of the [requirements] are for our protection."