Category Archives: Law

Repeal LEOBR, the police-unaccountability law

I’m in this weekend’s Frederick News-Post with an opinion piece urging the General Assembly to repeal a law that has been central to obstructing police accountability in Maryland, the 1974 Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR).

Since Maryland adopted its first-in-the-nation law in 1974, it has spread to 15 other states, causing problems along the way. Among states with their own versions of the law are Minnesota, where a video recorded George Floyd’s asphyxiation while in police custody, and Kentucky, where officers’ fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in her Louisville apartment has sparked widespread outrage….

Don’t let the focus slip this time. LEOBR is designed to result in impunity, and it should go.

An annotated copy of the law as revised in 2015 is here (see also here). The U.S. Department of Justice investigatory report on the Baltimore City Police Department includes discussion of some problems caused by the law. In 2015, before the modest legislative revisions, the ACLU commissioned a report on the law (and the Baltimore police union contract, with which it interacts) from Samuel Walker of the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Note that police unions in places like Baltimore have negotiated contract provisions that institute some of the same barriers to discipline, or go even further, to the public’s detriment. Because of these provisions, repealing LEOBR would fix only part of the problem. For example, one contract says the city cannot even begin disciplinary hearings while criminal proceedings are pending against an officer. Other contract provisions have provided for disciplinary proceedings to be kept secret from the public, promote expungement of public complaints, or forbid job consequences when an officer is placed on the “do-not-call” list of those whose testimony would be highly vulnerable to impeachment by defense lawyers — although the ability to testify credibly should be one of the prerequisites of a police job. Legislation could help here by restricting bargaining to economic issues, such as wages, rather than discipline and investigation.

The New York Times, together with many other publications, has covered the contentions of Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery Village, Germantown) that he was fired by his employer, the MC-GEO union that represents many Montgomery County employees, because he refused to back down from his work on legislation to advance police accountability. More background on the shifting politics in Annapolis from Maryland Matters (citing Sen. William C. Smith, Jr.). More coverage from January on death of handcuffed William Green in Prince George’s police custody (“They deserve justice just like citizens do. They should give prompt statements just like citizens do. They should not be given time to cover up their crimes, which the police officer’s bill of rights was designed to let them do,” says family’s attorney); Washington Post letter to the editor last October on Silver Spring case.

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In the FNP: “Why the ‘Reopen Maryland’ lawsuit failed”

A federal judge on Wednesday rejected the lawsuit filed by Del. Dan Cox challenging Gov. Larry Hogan’s public health orders seeking to limit the COVID-19 outbreak. I’m in today’s Frederick News-Post with an opinion piece on that. Excerpts:

In some other states, challengers have won rulings striking down at least some portions of state stay-home orders. But this suit’s claims failed all down the line, and here’s why….

In what you might call a long-shot move, Cox’s suit [sought] to minimize the seriousness of what it called the “alleged on-going catastrophic health pandemic” — which has killed more than 2,000 Marylanders so far — and drew sharp rebuke from the judge, who wrote: “even if these assertions were true, the plaintiffs ignore the likelihood that the restrictions that were put in place reduced the number of deaths and serious disability the State has experienced.”

In his statements outside the court, Del. Cox has told a radio audience that “ninety-nine percent of the population is not in danger with this virus,’ and has said on Twitter that ‘Studies show up to 70-86% of the public already have or had coronavirus.” Many medical authorities would sharply disagree with both contentions….

An unusual aspect of the suit was Del. Cox’s claim to have been personally threatened by an aide to Gov. Hogan. Shortly before filing the lawsuit Cox repeatedly asked the aide if he, Cox, could be arrested for speaking at a Reopen rally, and the aide answered that the delegate should read the text of the relevant order if he wanted to know what it said. Cox characterized this exchange as a threat. (No one was arrested for speaking at the rally.)

Judge Blake ruled that the restriction on large gatherings is what the law calls a ‘time, place, and manner’ restriction not based on the content of speech, noted that “there is no evidence that the order is being applied selectively to discourage speech that the Governor disagrees with,’ and summed things up: ‘the Governor has not silenced Cox or any other legislator.”…

The text of this lawsuit was full of rhetorical flights and digressions into points not germane to law. It appeared to be written with some audience in mind other than federal judges.

That’s one reason, when Cox takes the case to the Fourth Circuit federal appeals court — as he has vowed to do — he will find his work cut out for him.

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Dels. Cox, Parrott, Miller sue Hogan over pandemic measures

Yesterday Delegate Dan Cox (R-4th), together with Dels. Neil Parrott and Warren Miller and plaintiffs that included business owners and clerics, filed a lawsuit challenging Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s actions in response to the “alleged on-going Catastrophic Health pandemic” — nice touch, that “alleged.”

Del. Cox might want to be more careful with the cut-paste button next time, to judge by this excerpt from p. 82 of his complaint.

excerpt of lawsuit against Maryland governor mistakenly using name of Virginia governor

The new complaint is here (more papers); I’ll have more to say about it later. Earlier, I posted in this space about some of my disagreements with Del. Cox’s interpretations of Maryland statutes and of the U.S. Constitution. Yesterday, and not specific to Maryland, I published this article on why most of the public health orders issued against COVID-19 are constitutional — in the view of today’s judges, judges of the pre-New Deal era, and framers of law at the time of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.

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At-home COVID-19 test available in 46 states, but not Maryland. Why?

Following FDA approval, LabCorp has now introduced an at-home test for the COVID-19 virus. It will initially be made available to health care workers and first responders in 46, but not all 50 states — the missing states being New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Maryland. The reason, according to an Associated Press report, is that several states have laws on the books that restrict testing with at-home collection kits. I examine the frustrating situation in a new Cato post.

After I published the piece, I was contacted by Paul Celli, public health administrator for clinical and forensic laboratories at the Maryland Department of Health Office of Health Care Quality, who wrote to say the AP article is incorrect in listing Maryland as a state that bans at-home testing. Whatever may be the situation in the other three states, “Maryland is not banning this Pixel at‐​home collection device (it is not a test) for use at select Labcorp testing locations.” A Maryland legislative source points out that last year, state lawmakers approved and Gov. Hogan signed SB 495, a measure aimed at liberalizing access to medical testing by removing some of the restrictions in effect earlier. Mr. Celli writes that even before that change, rather than bar use of this particular test the state “probably would have exercised enforcement discretion in such cases where the company appears to be providing services pursuant to a physician or other authorized provider order for the test.”

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Delegate Dan Cox is wrong on Gov. Hogan’s coronavirus orders

Delegate Dan Cox (R-Emmitsburg), one of the three delegates representing my own District 4, wrote a letter on Thursday to Gov. Larry Hogan demanding that Hogan stand down from some of the measures he has ordered “allegedly because of an ongoing health catastrophe with coronavirus.” (The “allegedly” gave me pause — is Del. Cox suggesting that the ongoing health catastrophe might not be real, or that Gov. Hogan is somehow using a real catastrophe as a pretext?)

In his letter, Del. Cox suggests that Title 14 of the Maryland Public Safety Code does not confer an emergency power of isolation or control over “healthy persons,” although the wording of § 14-3A-03 contains two passages that would appear to do exactly that. One of them (§ 14-3A-03 (d)(2)) is: “If necessary and reasonable to save lives or prevent exposure to a deadly agent, the Governor may order individuals to remain indoors or refrain from congregating.” A second provision (§ 14-3A-03 (b)(3)(iv)) empowers the governor to require individuals to go into isolation until a designated official determines that they do not “pose a substantial risk of transmitting the disease or condition to the public,” a wording that does not apply only to persons themselves sick.

The letter also suggests that the governor’s emergency powers do not extend to businesses not involved in health care, although a section of the Title on emergency health measures addressed to the public (§14-3A-03 (d)(1)) provides that he “may order the evacuation, closing, or decontamination of any facility.”

Del. Cox further asserts that Gov. Hogan has “unilaterally suspend[ed] the Bill of Rights,” a remarkable and disputable claim.

Del. Cox’s letter invokes the U.S. Constitution. I myself have written and spoken a fair bit about how the U.S. Constitution applies in outbreaks of contagious epidemic (the Framers were very familiar with such outbreaks and with the measures taken in response.) I strongly disagree with Del. Cox’s repeated suggestion that the measures are likely violations of the constitution.

Today, Del. Cox was on social media promoting the Annapolis demonstrations demanding relaxation of social distancing in the state, among whose targets is Gov. Larry Hogan.

I am a registered voter and constituent in District 4, and I can state that in doing all of this Del. Dan Cox does not represent my views.

Update: Steve Bohnel of the Frederick News-Post now covers the story in a front-page article and the paper also has published an editorial, both kind enough to quote me.

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Maryland newspapers beat bad law on online political ads

I’m in the Baltimore Sun discussing a bad Maryland law passed in response to the furor over Russian trolling on social media. I wrote about it earlier when a federal district court struck the law down, and now a Fourth Circuit panel, in an opinion by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, has agreed that it is unconstitutional. Excerpt:

Exposing foreign governments’ meddling in U.S. politics is a worthy goal. Infringing on First Amendment freedoms is no way to go about it….

[After the law passed] Google immediately stopped hosting political ads in Maryland, a step particularly unhelpful to newcomer candidates, for whom advertising may be one of the few effective ways to boost name recognition. Other platforms, including some Maryland newspapers, also faced a tough position as the effective date of the law drew near. Rather than publish disclosures that might expose to competitors’ eyes confidential information about their ad rates and viewer reach, they might prefer just to immunize themselves by turning down political and issue ads in the future as a category.

Whole thing here (cross-posted from Overlawyered).

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My Washington Post letter on Maryland’s red flag law

My letter to the editor at the Washington Post last month on red flag gun laws:

August 13, 2019

Red flag’ laws can have deadly consequences

The Aug. 9 front-page article “Results of ‘red flag’ gun laws uneven across 17 states, D.C.” quoted critics of Maryland’s “red flag” gun-confiscation law who find the law lacking on due process grounds. It might also have mentioned another kind of collateral damage done by the law this past November in its second month of operation, namely the death of 61-year-old Gary J. Willis of Glen Burnie, shot dead by Anne Arundel County police who had come to his door at 5 a.m. to present an order to confiscate his guns. Willis answered the door with a gun in his hand. He set it down but then became angry, picked up the gun, and, in an ensuing scuffle with an officer over the weapon, it went off without striking anyone. A second officer then shot Willis dead.

In the aftermath, because of confidentiality rules, neither press nor public could view the red-flag order that had set police on the fatal encounter. Defending the shooting afterward, the county’s police chief described any possible threat from Willis to others in the vaguest of terms, telling the Capital Gazette, “We don’t know what we prevented or could’ve prevented.” Family member Michele Willis, speaking to the Baltimore Sun, took a different view: “I’m just dumbfounded right now,” she said. “My uncle wouldn’t hurt anybody. … They didn’t need to do what they did.”

Walter Olson, New Market

It is true that in principle “red flag” laws can draw on the same respectable historic taproots of judicial power as, e.g., domestic violence restraining orders. [David French, National Review] One problem with that is that it’s not clear the current use of domestic restraining orders inspires confidence, due-process-wise. In two posts last month (firstsecond) Jacob Sullum, who also cites the work of Dave Kopel, critically examines the shortcomings of the red flag gun laws enacted so far, while California lawyer Donald Kilmer looks at his state’s existing law. [cross-posted from Overlawyered]

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Maryland’s gun permit system is challenged — and it’s probably unconstitutional

Maryland law still does not acknowledge any individual right of gun ownership, notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s decisions in D.C. v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago, which recognized that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own guns and determined that it applies to states and not solely the federal government. It’s time for that to change — and if the legislature won’t act, the courts will have to.

Allen Etzler reports at the FNP:

Maryland is one of 10 states considered a “may issue” state, which means it requires a permit to carry a concealed gun, and granting that permit is at the discretion of local authorities. It’s a restrictive law that prevents most average citizens from being able to obtain a permit, said Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll).

“It’s an undue burden on people,” Hough said. “The vast majority of people that get this permit are armed security or private [investigators]. It’s very difficult for the average citizen to get one.”

Now Maryland Shall Issue, a gun rights organization, is challenging the state’s permit regime as inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s rulings in Heller and McDonald. My colleagues at the Cato Institute filed briefs in support of Second Amendment rights in both of those earlier cases.

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Did Maryland’s lawyer mislead the high court in the gerrymander case?

Prof. Michael McDonald says that’s what happened at oral argument when the state’s lawyer characterized McDonald, an expert for the Republican plaintiffs, as having found the Sixth District “competitive.” [Medium, McDonald on Twitter]

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Baltimore tries to seize the Preakness

Now unpaywalled: my WSJ opinion piece on the city of Baltimore’s outrageous move to use powers of eminent domain to seize the venerable Preakness thoroughbred horse race as well as its associated Pimlico racetrack. Earlier here and more generally here. [cross-posted from Overlawyered]

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