Maryland’s constitution calls for the removal from office of any elected official, state or local, who is convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors. That would seem simple enough, but we have, sadly, at least three examples from recent years in which Article XV didn’t quite work out the way one might hope. Despite being found guilty by a jury or pleading guilty in court, former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, former Prince George’s County Councilwoman Leslie Johnson and former Anne Arundel County Councilman Daryl Jones managed, at least for a time, to hold onto office while under the darkest of legal clouds. The former two eventually resigned (Ms. Dixon as part of a plea deal and Ms. Johnson under tremendous political pressure), and Mr. Jones was removed from office by his peers, though he is challenging the legality of that action.
Del. Jolene Ivey, a Prince George’s County Democrat, is seeking to make the law stricter through a constitutional amendment, and she’s getting a great deal of support for the idea in Annapolis. Her argument is that allowing these situations to drag out for months while elected officials are under a legal cloud robs their constituents of effective representation. She has 85 co-sponsors in the House — enough, if all of them vote for the measure, to meet the three-fifths requirement to send a constitutional amendment to voters. A companion measure just introduced in the Senate by Victor Ramirez, also a Prince George’s Democrat, has enough co-sponsors to meet the threshold in that chamber as well.
The legislation would be a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go quite far enough. It would deal with a case like Ms. Johnson’s, but its effect on the other recent instances of officials hanging on to office in spite of guilty pleas or verdicts is, at best, unclear.
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