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Independent probe called for in session suit

The Baltimore Sun

A legal fight over the constitutionality of $1.3 billion in tax increases passed by the General Assembly last month intensified yesterday as Republican lawmakers called on Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler to request an independent investigation into the matter.

"What we're doing is sticking up for the rule of law," said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the minority leader from Southern Maryland.

Gansler's office immediately rejected the request. His spokeswoman said a lawsuit filed by five GOP lawmakers seeking to negate the tax increases that took effect this week on the same grounds was "without merit."

"We are defending the case as completely pointless and useless," said the spokeswoman, Raquel Guillory. "We are the ones in court on the opposite side of the aisle, saying the case is without merit. So why would we go to someone else and say, 'Investigate this?'"

At issue is whether House or Senate legislators or staffers did anything improper in drawing up documents related to a five-day break the Senate took during November's special legislative session. The state Constitution requires either body to seek the other's approval if it takes more than three days off.

The attorney general's office has argued that sufficient consent was given verbally by House and Senate leaders on Nov. 12 and that a letter from the Senate requesting permission to adjourn until Nov. 15 was mistakenly dated Nov. 9.

Republicans have cried foul because the letter, which was entered into official House records, was prepared Nov. 12 by an assistant House clerk, not by the Senate clerk.

Mary Monahan, the House of Delegates' chief clerk, said during an intense four-hour deposition Wednesday that Senate clerk William B. C. Addison Jr. asked her to prepare the letter on his behalf because he "did not want to drive all the way to the State House."

Gansler's office had sought to block Monahan's deposition for weeks on grounds that it violated legislative privilege and threatened the separation of powers.

Feeling sick with the flu, Monahan asked Colleen A. Cassidy, an assistant House clerk, to prepare the document on Addison's behalf, Monahan testified. Monahan said she told Cassidy to seek the legal counsel of the speaker of the House for advice on what date to put on the document. The clerk dated the document Nov. 9, the last time the Senate was in session, not Nov. 12, when the document was being created. It was not clear from the testimony whether Cassidy spoke with the attorney for the speaker.

Pressed by an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said she "wouldn't have backdated it" if she had been in the office.

Irwin R. Kramer, the attorney who conducted most of the deposition, posted a transcript on his firm's Web site. He called the attorney general's advocacy in this case "shameful," particularly the claim that Cassidy "would simply have acted on her own to backdate a letter."

"That's like saying it's the secretary's fault or the dog ate my homework," he said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said yesterday it was unfortunate that the lawsuit had focused on the clerks when he could easily have attested for the consent that took place.

"They don't want the truth," he said of the plaintiffs. "It was just an error on the part of an assistant clerk, but it was totally constitutional and totally within the law."

The Republicans' case is set for a hearing today in Carroll County Circuit Court.

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