A Prince George’s County Circuit Court judge is expected to rule as soon Wednesday on whether an ostensibly vacant delegate seat belongs to former Del. Tiffany T. Alston, to businessman and community activist Greg Hall, or to neither of them.
Attorneys for Alston, Hall, the state and the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee laid out their arguments before Judge C. Philip Nichols on Tuesday in Upper Marlboro, and Nichols promised a ruling on the web of legal issues now surrounding the seat within 24 hours.
Nichols will need to decide whether Alston has, in fact, been removed from office, whether the committee can withdraw Hall’s name and whether the Maryland Constitution binds the governor to appoint Hall since a 15-day window has elapsed.
Whatever Nichols’ decision, the case is expected to be decided by the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Fader, representing Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis, argued that Alston, who held the District 24 seat, was removed from office when she reached a plea deal in October on a charge of misusing campaign funds.
Alston’s attorney argued that because her sentence for a charge of misconduct in office earlier this year was modified to probation before judgment, her conviction was stricken from the record and the office is still hers.
But such a modification did not reverse or overturn her conviction, Fader argued, citing an earlier statement by the judge who oversaw Alston’s plea agreement, meaning that she had been permanently ousted from her seat by act of law when the agreement was reached.
Hall’s lawyer argued that the post belongs to his client, who was picked by the central committee in November to be Alston’s replacement. Since then, revelations about criminal charges Hall faced as a young man, including his implication in a shootout that left a teenage bystander dead, have prompted O’Malley to request that the committee withdraw his nomination.
Hall requested a temporary restraining order last month to prevent the committee from withdrawing his name, and the committee’s lawyer, Joseph Sandler, argued Tuesday that Hall had withheld critical information about his past from the committee.
The committee had the right to withdraw Hall’s nomination, Sandler said.
State lawyers came to the same conclusion in an advisory letter issued last month, but said that because the seat had been vacant for more than 30 days, the committee could not submit another binding nomination to O’Malley and the governor would be free to make his own choice.
Alston told reporters after Tuesday’s hearing that since the judge had made clear at her plea hearing that her sentence could be modified, her conviction never became final.
“A person cannot be removed from office unless the conviction becomes final,” she said.
Alston said Hall was a good man, and it was wrong for the governor to “usurp the power of other branches of government” by trying to block his appointment.