A history of Howard County Council redistricting, part 15

5 minute read

As we concluded part 14 we’d seen a move by the Democratic council members (adopting their preferred redistricting plan as a bill), a counter-move by the Republican county executive (vetoing said bill), and a counter-counter move by the council Democrats (adopting the plan via a resolution instead). Now comes the next move:1

February 1992. Howard County Republicans, in the persons of David Maier and Louis Pope, prepare to sue the Board of Elections for accepting the Democratic redistricting plan passed by the council as a resolution (after county executive Charles Ecker vetoed it when passed as a bill). Past and present county solicitors disagree on the bill vs. resolution issue: Current solicitor Barbara Cook says a bill is required, while former solicitor Timothy Welsh had in 1985 opined that a resolution would suffice.2

Meanwhile Democratic council member Shane Pendergrass objects to Ecker aide (and county lobbyist) Gail Bates attending the press conference announcing the lawsuit: You would think our Annapolis lobbyist would be in the capital trying to get help with the budget. She seems to be making poor choices about how to spend her time. In response County GOP chair Carol Arscott points to the $7,600 the council spent getting legal advice from former US Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, especially given that the suit by Maier and Pope is being handled on a pro bono basis by local zoning lawyer Thomas Lloyd (a Democrat, and also a former county solicitor).

Although the county is named as a co-defendant in the suit, Ecker makes it clear to Lloyd that he’s not going to mount a defense: I’m going to side with [Lloyd]. I agree with the suit. If the council wants to defend it, that’s up to them.

(James M. Coram, Republicans to sue election board over council boundaries, Baltimore Sun, February 12, 1992, 5H; James M. Coram, Ecker administration won’t contest redistricting lawsuit, Baltimore Sun, February 26, 1992, 2H.)

March-June 1992. The Howard County Board of Elections decides to defend the lawsuit filed in Circuit Court by David Maier and Louis Pope, which alleges that the board’s acceptance of the new district lines from the council resolution was invalid. Unlike the earlier 2-1 party-line vote, this decision is unanimous, with the board instructing its attorney, Charles Reese, to prepare its defense. The county council gets its own lawyer, deciding in a by-now-familiar 3-2 party-line vote to pay Benjamin Civiletti $150 an hour to continue his legal arguments in support of the position that a council resolution is sufficient to adopt a council redistricting plan.

Charles Feaga, objecting to the expense, suggests local attorney (and state chair for the Clinton campaign) James Kraft as a possible pro bono alternative: Jim Kraft spoke out for good, clear government at the redistricting hearings. He might just want to take the case. Shane Pendergrass notes that It’s offensive to all but volunteer a county lawyer for free without asking him, and pronounces herself appalled at the possible appearance of impropriety should Kraft do a favor for the council and then later appear before the council in its role as the zoning board. Kraft himself agrees: There could be the perception that this was a quid pro quo.

Thomas Lloyd, attorney for Maier and Pope, also thinks the council made a mistake hiring Civiletti, contending in a Circuit Court motion that the council as a body doesn’t have the right to sue or be sued. He notes, If, personally, council members want to intervene, they’re welcome. But they should pay their own fees … Meanwhile Charles Ecker continues to refuse to mount a defense, leaving C. Vernon Gray to flag Ecker’s action as a possible violation of the county charter and to note that If he’s not going to be defending suits, it may be a good idea to cut the budget since the county won’t be needing as much money.

Judge Cornelius Sybert, Jr., considers whether or not the council can be a party to the lawsuit, which as originally filed named only the county and the Board of Elections. Thomas Lloyd contends that the council cannot be sued since it is not a person, and that any past lawsuits in which the council was seemingly a defendant (such as one filed by county executive J. Hugh Nichols in 1978) were really lawsuits against council members as individuals. Civiletti associate Roger Titus, representing the council (or, as Lloyd would presumably put it, the Democratic members of the council), argues that the suit challenges the council’s competency to act, and that it is in the public interest for the council to be a party to the suit. He also threatens to appeal an unfavorable decision, aknowledging that any such appeal could delay redistricting at least a year and really gum up the works. In the end the council gets its wish (as the Baltimore Sun puts it) as Sybert allows it to join the suit as a defendant. The trial is scheduled to begin August 31.

(Board to defend suit, March 4, 1992, March 4, 1992, 5H; James M. Coram, Council hires Civiletti for defense in redistricting suit, Baltimore Sun, March 15, 1992, 2H; Attorney objects to council’s hiring of lawyer, Baltimore Sun, May 10, 1992, 5H; James M. Coram, Judge weighing whether council can be party to suit, Baltimore Sun, June 7, 1992, 15H; James M. Coram, Redistricting suit names County Council as defendant, Baltimore Sun, June 28, 1992, 6H)

Will Maier and Pope prevail? Or will the council (or rather the Democratic members thereof) again get their wish? Find out in the next episode, hopefully to appear soon so as not to prolong the suspense. In the meantime I ask readers to please refrain from posting spoilers.


  1. As with the previous two posts, all events and quotes are from stories in the Baltimore Sun, and I’ve provided links both to the Sun’s ad-supported site and to the Sun archives. (Note that for some reason the story Judge weighing whether council can be party to suit is not available on the ad-supported site.)↩

  2. I tried searching for documents relating to this lawsuit using the Maryland Judiciary Case Search system, but was not able to find anything; presumably the suit predated the period during which the Circuit Court of Howard County kept electronic records. Does anyone know differently?

Also, one thing not immediately clear from the news articles is exactly how David Maier and Louis Pope had standing to file the suit. Again, anyone with knowledge of this care to comment? I’m guessing that they were prospective council candidates for the 1994 election who would be affected by the redirecting plan. (As it turned out Maier was indeed a candidate in 1994, but for the state senate not the county council; he narrowly lost to Edward Kasemeyer.)