This story was updated on Jan. 4, 2013.
Former Prince George’s County lawmaker Tiffany T. Alston no longer has a claim to her seat in the House of Delegates, Maryland’s highest court declared Friday.
The ruling places the responsibility for filling the vacant seat back in the hands of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who did not want to appoint the man nominated to succeed Alston.
The Court of Appeals upheld a December ruling by the Prince George’s County Circuit Court, which declared that Alston was removed from office by act of law in October when she was given a one-year suspended sentence for a charge of misusing General Assembly funds.
Circuit Court Judge C. Philip Nichols also ruled that the county’s Democratic Central Committee could withdraw its nominee to replace Alston, businessman and community activist Greg Hall, and that the governor was not obligated to appoint Hall during a 15-day window that elapsed in November.
Hall’s nomination became controversial after more details surfaced about criminal charges he faced as a younger man, including his implication in a 1992 shootout that left a teenaged bystander dead.
If Hall’s name is withdrawn, the central committee cannot make another binding nomination to the governor, according to Nichols’ order.
A majority of the seven judges on the Court of Appeals concurred with Nichols’ assessment and issued a one-page order upholding his ruling late Friday. A written opinion will be issued sometime in the future.
O’Malley’s spokeswoman, Raquel Guillory, said the central committee needed to formally withdraw Hall’s name before the governor could appoint someone to the seat, and that O’Malley would take any further reccomendations from the committee into consideration when making his decision.
Hall’s attorney, Walter Green, said that the decision now rested with the central committee whether to withdraw Hall’s nomination. If that happened, the committee would be giving the governor complete control over the process of filling the vacancy, Green said.
Alston declined to comment Friday afternoon, because she had not yet read the opinion.
The Court of Appeals heard arguments on both matters Friday morning.
Alston contended that because her sentence was converted in November to probation before judgment — effectively striking her conviction — after she completed 300 hours of community service, the conviction was not final at the time the plea was entered.
State lawyers have said that Alston was permanently removed from office by act of law in October, when she pleaded no contest to a charge of misusing campaign funds and was given a one-year suspended sentence on a separate charge of misusing General Assembly funds, for which a jury found her guilty earlier in the year.
Chief Judge Robert M. Bell appeared sympathetic to Alston’s argument during Friday’s hearing, challenging Assistant Attorney General Matthew Fader on the state’s assertions about the finality of the conviction.
The plea agreement took the possibility of a conversion to probation before judgment into account, Bell said, adding that since that was the case, he didn’t see how the sentence being converted to probation before judgment a few weeks after the plea agreement was any different from a judge granting probation before judgment “on day one.”
Fader contended that probation before judgment did not overturn or reverse Alston’s conviction.
In the second matter, Green argued that O’Malley was obligated to appoint Hall because the central committee initially had submitted his name Nov. 7.
Hall sued in November to block the withdrawal of his name.
If asked, the central committee probably could suggest another name within 10 days, according to Chairman Terry Speigner.
Several candidates who pursued the seat last year have expressed interest in the position, as has former Del. Darren M. Swain, who represented District 24 from 1999 to 2003.