State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Tuesday that he shouldn't have revealed that the General Assembly's ethics committee had hired a lawyer to help investigate a lawmaker's dealings in the medical marijuana industry.
"I just thought it was common knowledge and it was my mistake," Miller said in an interview. "I thought it was common knowledge."
The Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics operates confidentially, and members have declined to discuss an investigation into Del. Dan K. Morhaim.
The Baltimore County Democrat sponsored legislation that created the medical cannabis industry in Maryland while also agreeing to work for a company that later won preliminary licenses to grow and dispense the drug. And he appeared regularly before the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission as it set up the industry.
Morhaim has maintained that he properly disclosed his intent to work as a consultant in the emerging industry. He also said he regretted not being more transparent about his relationship with Doctor's Orders, the company that won preliminary licenses.
Miller revealed Friday that the ethics committee hired the outside counsel, who hasn't been publicly named.
The Calvert County Democrat indicated that hiring outside counsel underscored the serious nature of the investigation.
Morhaim's attorney, former state Del. Timothy F. Maloney, said outside counsel was necessary because the ethics committee's staff had a conflict of interest — they advised Morhaim on how to handle his relationship with Doctor's Orders.
Maloney, who represented Prince George's County from 1979 to 1994, said he was told hiring outside counsel was "no reflection of the seriousness or lack of seriousness" of the inquiry.
Miller said he knew the committee hired outside counsel because he oversees the legislature's budget and his approval was needed to spend the money.
"The committee wanted to vote to hire outside counsel. But to obtain funding, they had to get my permission and the speaker's permission," Miller said, referring to House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat who represents Anne Arundel County.
Miller, who is a non-voting ex officio member of the ethics committee, said he's not involved in the Morhaim investigation.
"I've never attended a meeting. I don't attend the meetings. I haven't discussed this with any single member of the committee, in terms of what their workings are," he said.
Miller could not say how much the outside counsel was being paid. On Friday, he said the last time the ethics committee hired a lawyer to assist in an investigation was in 1998.
That was in the case of former Sen. Larry Young, a Baltimore Democrat whom colleagues expelled from the state Senate following a series of ethics violations.