Former liquor commissioner sues new liquor board (and almost everyone else) to get job back

Ousted liquor commissioner sues new board, governor, mayor--everyone except the state senator who ousted him.

A former Baltimore City Liquor Board commissioner is suing Gov. Larry Hogan, Senate President Mike Miller, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and the current liquor board to get his old job back. 

Douglas H. Trotter, who served on the liquor board from last summer until the end of April, and Dale L. Watkins, whose boyfriend owns a liquor license in Baltimore City, filed suit Tuesday in Anne Arundel County circuit court claiming the state legislature exceeded its authority by effectively taking the power to appoint liquor commissioners from Hogan and giving it to the Baltimore mayor and city council president. 

"The Enactment violates Article VIII (Separation of powers) of the Declaration of Rights of Maryland in that the Legislature has not only interfered with an rescinded the powers of the Executive . . . but, additionally, has delegated executive powers to appoint, supervise and remove [liquor license] commissioners to persons not part of the Executive Branch of State Government, namely, the Mayor and City Council President of the City of Baltimore," the complaint, which was first reported by the Maryland Daily Record, states. 

The liquor board is a state agency that regulates all bars and liquor stores in the city. It was established at the end of prohibition and the governor has always had appointment power, with the advice and consent of the state senate. 

In practice, however, the city's senate delegation has long determined who served on the board, and State Sen. Joan Carter Conway, who penned the bill giving appointment power to the mayor, has long been the key player. Conway's husband, Vernon, reportedly had a no-show job as a liquor inspector—a point the civil complaint takes pains to footnote even though it does not name Conway as a defendant. 

"Senator Conway chairs the State Senate Education, health and Environmental Affairs Committee, which oversees all liquor-related legislation," footnote 1 of the complaint recounts. "Harvey E. Jones is employed as a housing inspector for the city of Baltimore and has been the treasurer for the committee to Elect Joan Carter Conway since May 24, 2010. Before being appointed a alternate [liquor board] commissioner, Jones had been a [liquor board] commissioner from April 6, 2007 to July 1, 2014. At times when Jones was a commissioner and alternate commissioner, the Conway campaign committee accepted contributions from [liquor] licensees and alcoholic beverage companies having business with the [liquor board] despite the prohibition in MD Code. Until he retired in 2014, Vernon 'Tim' Conway, Senator Conway's husband, held a position as a phantom employee with the [liquor board]."

The complaint says Trotter and Watkins are city taxpayers whose property values will fall under the new liquor board's regime. It says the current liquor board has no legal authority and asks for an injunction. The board meets tomorrow.


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