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Maryland’s highest court will delve into a legal fray surrounding a disputed Prince George’s County delegate seat early next month, according to an order issued Thursday.

The Court of Appeals will hear arguments regarding the seat — claimed by both former Del. Tiffany T. Alston and businessman and community activist Greg Hall — on Jan. 4, just five days before the start of the General Assembly session.

Alston (D-Dist. 24) of Mitchellville pleaded no contest in October to a charge of misusing campaign funds and was given a one-year suspended sentence on a separate charge of misusing General Assembly funds.

State lawyers, representing the governor and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, argued in Circuit Court on Dec. 4 that Alston was permanently removed from office by act of law when her plea was entered. Alston argued that because her sentence was modified to probation before judgment after she completed 300 hours of community service, the conviction was never made final and the seat is still hers.

Hall, meanwhile, was chosen to succeed Alston by the county's Democratic Central Committee in November, but Gov. Martin O’Malley asked the committee to withdraw Hall’s name amid controversy over criminal charges Hall faced as a younger man, including his implication in a 1992 shooting that left a teenage bystander dead.

Hall sued to keep the committee from withdrawing his name, and a Circuit Court judge ruled against both him and Alston last week.

“We're happy the high court is going to hear the case,” said Hall’s attorney, Walter Green. “When they issue a decision, I expect its going to be the final decision.”

Alston’s appellate attorney, Irwin Kramer, said he was glad the court would hear the case because the issue was a legal, rather than political, one.

“[It’s] whether the Constitution requires the removal of an elected official who receives probation before judgment,” Irwin said.

The central committee, which has said it is willing to withdraw Hall’s name, will probably suggest another candidate to the governor once the Court of Appeals has made its decision, according to Chairman Terry Speigner.

That recommendation will not be binding, however, because the seat has been vacant for more than 30 days, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Several candidates who pursued the seat last month have expressed interest in the position, as has former Del. Darren M. Swain, who represented District 24 from 1999 to 2003.

Swain said he had been approached as a possible candidate, and that he would gladly serve again if asked.

dleaderman@gazette.net