The three-month struggle for control of Anne Arundel County's delegation to the House of Delegates ended yesterday when the state's highest court sided with the county's Democrats, settling a dispute that hinged on the voting power of delegates whose district straddles two counties.
"That's it," said Republican Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. "The court has spoken and I will reluctantly concede. Reluctantly."
The ruling means Democrats will retain a majority in the 15-member delegation until at least the 2006 election.
Late last year, Dwyer and fellow freshman Republican Del. Herbert H. McMillan filed a lawsuit against delegation Chairwoman Del. Mary Ann Love, a Democrat. They contended that Love and the Democrats acted illegally to maintain control of the delegation despite losses in the November election.
That lawsuit was tossed out of Anne Arundel Circuit Court in January by Judge Joseph P. Manck. Dwyer and McMillan challenged his decision in the Court of Appeals, where their arguments were heard Friday.
The appellate judges released their decision yesterday but did not release an opinion.
"When your integrity is attacked, it takes a lot out of you," Love said yesterday. "It was a big relief."
The partisan dispute began at a December meeting where the delegation - which included two Democrats defeated in the November election - approved giving one vote each to three Prince George's County delegates whose district contains a sliver of Anne Arundel County. That created an 8-7 majority for the Democrats.
Before the election, the delegation had agreed that the three Prince George's delegates would have one collective vote. If that system had remained intact, Republicans would have held a majority in the new delegation.
Arguing Friday for McMillan and Dwyer, attorney John Greiber said the Democrats' actions violated the delegation's bylaws. First, he said, those rules state that the voting procedure cannot be changed in December, when the House is not in session. Second, he said, the change violated the principle of "one man, one vote."
If "one man, one vote" applied, the Prince George's delegates would not be entitled to the same voting power as the delegates whose districts are solely in the county, Greiber said. The three delegates based in Prince George's represent about 24,000 people in Anne Arundel. A full district contains a little more than 110,000 people.
During the General Assembly session, the delegation meets weekly to discuss local issues, hear pleas from local groups seeking money and vote to put its stamp of approval on bills with local impact, paving their way to be heard by committees.
"Three years is a long time," Dwyer said. "There certainly will be a distrust."