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Legal Technicality for AG Hopeful

Article 5, Section 4 of the Maryland Constitution is just one sentence, but it's one that Montgomery County Council member Tom Perez probably should have read before he started raising money and quietly campaigning to become the state's next attorney general.

That's because it says, "no person shall be eligible to the office of Attorney General, who ..... has not resided and practiced law in this State for at least ten years."

With incumbent Joseph Curran announcing this morning that he won't seek a sixth term, Perez is likely to throw his hat in the ring, along with a number of other candidates.

Although he's been a practicing lawyer for more than 20 years, Perez joined the Maryland bar just five years ago. Before that, his resume says, he was practicing with the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is at 200 Independence Ave. in Southwest Washington.

Perez (D-Silver Spring) brushed off the issue when asked about it by a Washington Post reporter Thursday, one day after Perez learned of the potential conflict.

"Practicing law doesn't mean you have to be admitted into the Maryland bar," he said, adding that, from his reading of the state constitution, it is clear to him that it is not an issue. "It's going to be a long campaign if we're going to do things like this."

Depending on what ruling comes from the office of Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D), it also might be a very short campaign. Bob Zarnoch, an assistant attorney general, said he spoke Friday with Perez and expects Perez to request a formal opinion.

Regardless of the outcome of that opinion, Perez will be open to a formal challenge of his qualifications when he files to run, said Ross Goldstein of the State Board of Elections.

"If it is a bright line, like the guy is not a member of the bar, we would not accept the filing," Goldstein said. "But if it's a gray area, it's up to others to contest the filing. That would have to then be decided by a court as to whether the person meets the qualifications to stand for office."

By Phyllis Jordan  |  May 8, 2006; 7:25 AM ET
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Posted by: John | May 8, 2006 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Oh sure, Technality. That is when something is only technically a technicality. ;-)

Posted by: Baltimore voter | May 8, 2006 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Everyone's a copy editor! It fixed now

Posted by: Phyllis Jordan | May 8, 2006 1:51 PM | Report abuse

This is NOT a technicality. If Perez wants to argue that he has "practiced law in Maryland" by practicing law "in and around" Maryland, then he has violated the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 5.5. Those rules expressly prohibit "unauthorized" practice of law, i.e., the practice of law in Maryland if one is not a member of the Maryland bar. In particular, Perez's argument that he's been in Maryland for 20 years and practicing law runs right up against the prohibition, in the same rule, that a non-member of the Bar may not maintain a "systematic and continuous presence" for the practice of law.

The mere fact that Perez didn't know about this Rule or the Maryland CONSTITUTION's requirements for the very office he's seeking -- and that he now brushes all this off as a "technicality" -- is deeply disturbing for one who wants to be the state attorney general, the highest ranking constitutional legal officer in the state. This lack of judgment should disqualify him, even if he weren't disqualified as it is.

If he has any decency, he'll drop out right now, before being forced out.

Posted by: Concerned lawyer | May 8, 2006 3:48 PM | Report abuse

So concerned lawyer, aka Perez's opponent, showed up. I think it is funny when these people mascarade as someone else.

Needless to say he/she is right. Perez, sorry buddy, but you should've read the qualifications first!

Posted by: Bryan | May 8, 2006 10:55 PM | Report abuse

Well, I should disclose, to anyone who hasn't figured it out, that I'm an enthusiastic Gansler supporter. He's been a great State's Attorney here in Montgomery County and has the energy and idealism to be a terrific Attorney General. My comments were not merely an effort to boost Gansler, though: I really do think that Perez's cavalier attitude about what are some pretty clear constitutional and ethical lines is remarkable. If you care about the legal profession and the integrity of the Attorney General's Office, you should be very concerned about Perez's comments. I'm glad he's getting an Attorney General's Opinion on the topic. The people who do those are, as I know first-hand, consummate professionals and outstanding lawyers. And this isn't a tough call. He can't run.

Posted by: Concerned Lawyer | May 8, 2006 11:38 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of ethics how are the Montgomery County State's Attorney and his many fans going to handle his public sanctioning by the MAryland Court of Appeals for unethical behavior ? The 50 page opinion is available on the Court's website as Attorney Greviance v. Gansler (2003) Especially troublesome when voters are selecting someone to replace Attorney General Curran !

Posted by: Govt Lawyer | May 9, 2006 8:21 AM | Report abuse

I assume Government Lawyer has read the opinion and knows the facts and background. Gansler got a reprimand for being open and transparent about the work of his office -- anyone who knows about how all prosecutors operate understands that this was a highly selective "gotcha" instituted and carried through by the hide-bound Maryland legal establishment. The First Amendment went down in flames, and there's not a single other case like it from any other jurisdiction. Trust me -- it's not going to be a serious issue.

Posted by: Concerned lawyer | May 9, 2006 9:42 AM | Report abuse

The "transparency" spin is good, but I think that his opponents will just keep beating him over the head with language from the opinion - like the Court saying they need to "communicate to Gansler...that improper extrajudicial statements dangerously jeopardize the foundational principles of our system of justice", et cetera.
Despite his fundraising advantage - the public ethics reprimand is in my humble opinion a significant achilles heel. I think this race is wide open and will be very interesting to watch develop.

Posted by: Govt Lawyer | May 9, 2006 10:05 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Mr. Perez, um, I mean Government Lawyer, that the race will be very interesting to watch and that it is "wide open," in the sense that, while Gansler is the clear front-runner, at least one other candidate will likely emerge -- probably a Baltimore-area lawyer with gravitas and name recognition, at least in the Baltimore area and the legal community. If Perez can survive disqualification, and I don't see how he can, he'll run a spirited campaign.

Posted by: Concerned lawyer | May 9, 2006 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Don't get me wrong- Phyllis Jordan has raised a significant issue and I happen to agree with you and Bryan- Councilman Perez isn't likely to make the ballot.
But with names from both Metro areas floating around-like Glenn Ivey, Kurt Schmoke, Brian Frosh, Dutch Ruppersberger and a half-dozen others - this may end up being a fascinating primary.

Posted by: Govt Lawyer | May 9, 2006 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Govt Lawyer -- I completely agree with your last post. My main comments would be: (1) others will get in, but Gansler's got such a head start on money and popularity in a populous jurisdiction (Montgomery Co.), that it's going to be very hard for anyone, including the names you list, to beat him with only 3 months before the primary; (2) I don't dismiss altogether the bar disciplining, but I don't think it will turn out to be the liability that some think; and (3) once more of the state gets to know Gansler, I think they will find him to be an enormously appealing and charismatic candidate, with a lot more substance than is apparent from his current perception as an ambitious politician who loves the camera -- I also happen to think he'll be a first-rate attorney general. I know that office very, very well.

Posted by: Concerned lawyer | May 10, 2006 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Scott Rolle's running as an ultraconservative?

Gee, somehow that doesn't fit my image of him from high school. Back then we would get together in his basement to jam out to loud rock and roll while smoking dope and drinking beer.

Crossbow Rulz.

Posted by: Crossbow | May 10, 2006 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Actually, it's four months next week to the primary. I understand your pitch - just enough time for us to learn to love him, and not enough time for us to learn to love anyone else ??
If Frosh and Schmoke get in, no one- not even an ardent Gansler supporter- could tell you the 1-2-3 finish that comes out of that primary. It's wide open !
Don't take this as a cut on Gansler it just seems that the AG is such an important job that several more experienced, better known and more accomplished (again no offense intended) will throw their hats in. The seat has been open twice since Bill Burch was elected in 1966. Senior Dems just aren't going to stand around and watch Gansler walk in.
Finally, Rolle will be a formidible candidate notwithstanding that "party on Garth" post above.

Posted by: Govt Lawyer | May 10, 2006 9:41 PM | Report abuse

So much for Will's earlier point that only the gubernatorial threads get 15 posts because they're Duncan staffers. Ahem, 15 posts here and they have to do with Gansler and Perez.

I don't care too much for Gansler. Then again, I really don't know much about him. The most I remember is his red and white signs. With Perez, I can't stand him because the County Council has figured out every way to tax me when I lived in Montgomery County.

Hopefully I'll hear more from all of the candidates.

Posted by: Bryan | May 11, 2006 11:27 AM | Report abuse

I just removed a posting purportedly from "Doug Gansler." It was not, in fact, from Doug Gansler, who apparently has never heard of the Maryland Moment, much less posted a comment on it.
Cut it out guys!

Posted by: Phyllis Jordan | May 11, 2006 6:30 PM | Report abuse

As the first official candidate for Attorney General of this great state I would just like to introduce myself to the readers of the Washington Post. I am gearing up for what will be a competitive general election. Whether my opponent will be Doug Gansler of Tom Perez or anyone else I look forward to running a campaign that reaches out to all Marylanders. I hope to see you on the campaign trail!

-Scott Rolle
Frederick County State's Attorney

Posted by: Scott Rolle | May 12, 2006 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Phyllis, since you removed that post then I assume this one by Scott Rolle is legit? Great to see Mr. Rolle posting here. Mr. Rolle: good luck--but you won't need it, you'll roll over either of them!

Posted by: Bryan | May 13, 2006 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Doesn't Doug Gansler have the same problem that Tom Perez has? Wasn't Mr. Gansler an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia before he became Montgomery County State's Attorney - a post he's only held for 7+ years? If you have to practice law in Maryland of 10 years to be eligible to run for Attorney General, how does Mr. Gansler meet that test?

Posted by: Just Curious | May 17, 2006 10:19 PM | Report abuse

I heard that Gansler did Maryland legal work for at least two years before working in D.C., so I doubt it will be an issue.

What happens if Perez wins the primary and Rolle takes him to court and wins? The AG opinion doesn't prevent that.

Posted by: Also curious | May 23, 2006 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Someone asked whether Doug Glanser had the same problem as Tom Perez regarding his length of time as an attorney in Maryland. No he does not. Doug passed the Maryland Bar in 1989, as I remember reading.

Posted by: also curious | July 16, 2006 7:02 PM | Report abuse

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