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NOW: Court of Appeals to hear GOP challenge to Md. special session tax increases

January 29, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) -- Maryland's highest court has agreed to hear an appeal by attorneys in a Republican-led lawsuit seeking to overturn more than $1.3 billion in tax increases and other measures approved in November's special session of the Maryland General Assembly.

The Court of Appeals scheduled arguments for March 11. Republicans say Democratic leadership violated the state's constitution during the three-week special session, invalidating the outcome. Democrats have denounced the lawsuit as frivolous.

Irwin Kramer, an attorney representing Republicans, said he believed it was significant that the Court of Appeals agreed to take the case right away, instead of waiting for the state's intermediate appellate court to hear it first.

"Very, very few cases ... bypass the Court of Special Appeals, and I think it's a reflection of the fact that there are some very significant issues here that really merit the court's attention and guidance," Kramer said.

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Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman with the Maryland Attorney General's office, said the state is maintaining its position that the constitution was not violated and that consent was granted.

"We have the same position that we have always held, and we will be prepared once again when we meet again in March," Guillory said.

The case involves a provision in Maryland's constitution that prevents one chamber of the legislature from adjourning for more than three days during a legislative session without the consent of the other chamber.

In the special session, which was called by Gov. Martin O'Malley to address a $1.7 billion structural deficit, the Senate had adjourned because it already had passed legislation and was waiting for the House to work on the measures. But Republicans say the Senate broke the adjournment rule, because they did not get the appropriate consent from the House.

Earlier this month, Carroll County Circuit Judge Thomas Stansfield ruled that Democrats in the legislature erred during the special session, but he said the GOP claim that the error nullifies the tax hikes is not valid.

The case took on added interest over the holidays in late December and early January after Republicans pursued a legislative clerk, who ended up giving a deposition in the case. Republicans argue that a document in the House journal, which chronicles official events during the legislative process, was backdated to falsely indicate that the Senate had consent from the House to be in adjournment.

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