State sues over employees' testimony


At a May 11 hearing by a legislative committee looking into Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s hiring and firing practices, two witnesses refused to answer a series of questions asked by lawmakers.

Last week, the state filed a lawsuit against the two state employees, hoping to force them to provide those answers.

Del. Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat who is co-chair of the Special Committee on Employee Rights and Protections, said yesterday that the reasons given by Craig B. Chesek, who works for the Public Service Commission, and Gregory J. Maddalone, an employee of the state Department of Transportation, for giving incomplete testimony "just didn't hold water."

So Jones asked the state attorney general's office to file papers in Baltimore County Circuit Court on Thursday. She hopes a judge will grant the petition to compel testimony quickly. The committee's authority expires June 30.

"The Republicans were critical of us for dragging this on," she said.

The committee has spent nearly a year investigating whether state workers were fired because they were Democrats or to make way for people who would be loyal to Ehrlich, the first Republican chief executive in Maryland in decades.

One person the committee wanted to have testify remains elusive. Committee staffers have not been able to locate former Ehrlich aide Joseph F. Steffen Jr., who has said the governor dubbed him the "Prince of Darkness," to send him a subpoena.

In court papers, attorneys say they want Maddalone to tell them about "the creation of a database pertaining to termination of state employees and whether he was paying for private counsel," two things he declined to answer at the advice of his attorney J. Donald Braden in May.

In another filing, attorneys say they want Chesek to tell them "about specific terminations at the PSC and the Department of Natural Resources and provide information about Joseph Steffen, a major figure in the Special Committee's inquiry," which he, too, would not discuss on Braden's advice.

Both men asserted "privilege" in not disclosing the information, but Assistant Attorney General Bonnie Kirkland said that only information in personnel files need be kept private. "That does not cover oral testimony or testifying about information you know from sources other than personnel records," she said.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell referred all questions about the suit to Braden. Braden said he received a copy of the petition yesterday. "The matter is before the court," he said. "Once the court has it, I'm not going to comment ... until it's over with."

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