Fired Md. public defender files complaint against former O'Malley aide, alleging lobbying violations
Election years tend to bring out some bizarre sideshows in Maryland, and there's a curious one brewing in which the state's former chief public defender is accusing a longtime loyalist of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) of unethical conduct.
Nancy S. Forster was unceremoniously dumped last year as Maryland's public defender by a sharply divided three-member board of O'Malley appointees. Her firing, on a 2-to-1 vote, prompted the legislature to expand the board that oversees the state's public defender system and left Forster pretty bitter, judging from some recent postings of hers on Facebook. In one posting, she referred to O'Malley as a "'rock-star' fake governor." In another, Forster announced that, although she is a Democrat, she will be voting this year for former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).
Her public allegiance to Ehrlich has added an interesting wrinkle to a complaint Forster filed last month in which she alleges that Sean Malone, a longtime O'Malley aide who is now an Annapolis lobbyist in private practice, has run afoul of state ethics laws. The crux of Forster's complaint is that by representing clients with interests in speed cameras and slots, Malone violated a provision that bars private-sector lobbyists from engaging in matters in which they were directly involved as government employees.
Until September 2008, Malone was employed by O'Malley to lobby the General Assembly on behalf of his agenda, which included speed cameras and slots. That was the last in a string of posts that Malone held under O'Malley, both as governor and mayor of Baltimore. The two have a friendship that dates to Malone's days as a bartender in a Baltimore bar where O'Malley's Celtic rock band played regularly.
In a response this month to the State Ethics Commission, Malone said that Forster's complaint is "baseless" and based upon "a gross misinterpretation of the law." The crux of his defense is two-fold: that he wasn't heavily involved in either issue, and that the ethics commission has generally viewed a legislative "matter" as limited to the session in which it was debated. On the second point, Malone is essentially saying enough time had passed on both issues that he was free to represent private clients.
"The motivations behind Ms. Forster's complaint are unclear to me," Malone wrote, adding that he is looking forward to "an efficient resolution of this issue."
Forster declined several requests by The Washington Post to be interviewed about her complaint and the motivations behind it, saying that the complaint was supposed to be kept confidential. The Post obtained a copy from a party with no direct involvement in the dispute. Ethics officials declined to discuss the complaint, as a matter of practice.
In an e-mail exchange, Forster did say that Malone had nothing to do with her termination as the head of an agency with a $90 million budget that employs about 400 lawyers. In fact, Malone left the governor's office nearly a year before Forster's firing last August.
Malone said he first learned of Forster's complaint from a couple of his clients, whom he said were sent copies of the document by someone other than him. Forster declined to answer a question from The Post as to whether she played a role in that.
She has been less restrained in recent weeks in sharing her thoughts about O'Malley on Facebook. According to news accounts at the time of her firing, Forster and O'Malley had a rocky relationship, strained by rounds of budget cuts.
"I'm a Democrat, and I am voting for Mr. Ehrlich," Forster wrote in response to a recent posting on Ehrlich's Facebook page, suggesting that the former governor, who is seeking to regain his job, is more "decent" than O'Malley.
In another posting, Forster urges Ehrlich to name "a strong-willed woman" similar to his wife, Kendel, as his running mate, and to do so soon.
"Believe it or not, there are strong-willed, intelligent women out here in Maryland who want something more than a muscle-flexing, sleeveless-shirt wearing wannabe," Forster wrote, referring to O'Malley. "There is an entire population of intelligent, sophisticated, knowledgeable women in this state who are just waiting for an alternative to the 'rock-star' fake governor we now have in Annapolis."
June 17, 2010; 10:05 AM ET
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