ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A Maryland lawmaker who pleaded guilty to settle two misconduct cases was automatically suspended from office without pay when a judge sentenced her, the state General Assembly counsel concluded in a legal opinion Wednesday.
Attorney Dan Friedman responded to a request by House Speaker Michael Busch, who asked for legal advice regarding Delegate Tiffany Alston’s status after she entered a plea deal on Tuesday.
“It is my view that she has now been suspended from elective office by operation of law without pay or benefits,” Friedman wrote to the speaker.
However, Friedman’s letter includes a footnote stating that he has provided the advice without addressing other potential ramifications of Alston’s criminal case. He said it was important to provide immediate clarity on whether she has been suspended.
Alston’s attorney, Rauof Abdullah, said he disagrees with the opinion, and he noted that this is a unique legal situation, because Alston’s conviction can later be changed to probation if she fulfills certain requirements.
Alston, D-Prince George’s, entered a plea deal on Tuesday to settle two separate cases brought by the state prosecutor’s office. In June, a jury found her guilty of using $800 in state money to pay an employee in her law firm, and Alston agreed not to contest the finding in the plea agreement. She also pleaded no contest to charges relating to using campaign money to pay wedding expenses. Alston also waived all appellate rights.
Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul Harris sentenced Alston to one year in jail with all of the time suspended for misconduct in office that related to the payment to her employee. She was sentenced to three years of supervised probation and 300 hours of community service. She must pay the money back to the state.
After court on Tuesday, Alston and her attorney contended that the judge had sentenced her to probation before judgment on the charges relating to the wedding expenses. They also said that her conviction for misconduct in office could be changed to probation before judgment later, after she performs the community service requirement and pays back the money.
Abdullah said the counsel’s opinion is based on the idea that the conviction was a final adjudication, which Abdullah contends it’s not.
“What we have here is a conviction that is temporary,” Abdullah said.
In his opinion Wednesday, Friedman also wrote that Alston’s suspension has triggered the process for appointing a person to temporarily fill her position. The Democratic Central Committee for Prince George’s County has 30 days from Tuesday to forward names of temporary replacements to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who then has 15 days to select a replacement.
Abdullah said he will challenge efforts to replace Alston.
Maryland’s constitution calls for suspension of any elected official who is convicted or enters a no contest plea to any crime that is a felony or a misdemeanor related to the official’s duties and responsibilities and involves moral turpitude for which the penalty can be incarceration.
Friedman wrote that the guilty finding on the misconduct in office was a misdemeanor that qualifies for suspension.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)