The lawyer representing Maryland State Del. Tiffany Alston (D-Prince George’s County) says he’s convinced that Alston was targeted for alleged campaign finance violations under the state’s criminal law because she withdrew her support for a same-sex marriage bill earlier this year.
Baltimore attorney J. Wyndal Gordon told the Blade Monday that Alston’s indictment on felony theft charges in September was the result of a “backlash” against her decision to oppose the same-sex marriage equality bill after she promised to vote for it.
Gordon said authorities initially investigated Alston for alleged campaign irregularities through a non-criminal, civil process overseen by the state’s Board of Elections. He said state prosecutors changed course and sought a criminal indictment against her almost immediately after she angered same-sex marriage supporters by switching sides and opposing the bill.
“That’s when there was an intense scrutiny placed upon her and they started looking at her with a jaundiced eye like they were out to get her after that situation occurred,” he said.
MORE IN THE BLADE: THE BACKGROUND ON THE ALSTON INDICTMENT
The Maryland Office of the State Prosecutor charged Alston with one count of felony theft, one count of misdemeanor theft, one count of fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary, and two election law violations. If convicted, she faces a possible sentence of ten years in jail.
A conviction also would force her to give up her seat as a state delegate representing Prince George’s County.
The charges, which were handed down by a grand jury on Sept. 23, allege that Alston made illegal disbursements from her election campaign account for personal use. Among other things, the indictment charges that she issued two campaign account checks totaling $3,560 to cover the cost of her wedding in December 2010.
LGBT activists called that allegation an ironic development, saying she allegedly broke the law to help pay for her own wedding just a few months before she moved to deny weddings for same-sex couples.
James Cabezas, chief prosecutor at the Office of the State Prosecutor, declined to comment on Gordon’s claim that Alston’s indictment was a result of a backlash against her opposition to the marriage bill. Cabezas said the office never discusses pending cases.
“When a matter is being litigated in a courtroom, that’s where we do our talking,” he said.
Gordon said he will argue at Alston’s trial, scheduled to begin Jan. 10, that the funds Alston withdrew from her campaign account were her own personal funds.
“So the funds that she’s accused of stealing were actually her personal funds that she invested in her own campaign with agreements with the campaign treasurer that she would be reimbursed for what she contributed to the campaign,” he said. “And the law allows for that as well.”
MORE IN THE BLADE: GEARING UP FOR ANOTHER MARRIAGE FIGHT IN MARYLAND
When asked if the backlash he claims resulted in Alston’s indictment was brought about, in part, by gay community outrage over her decision to switch sides on the marriage bill, Gordon said he bases his assertion on “anecdotal” rather than “empirical” evidence.
“I think it was an unpopular position that she took,” he said. “It took a lot of courage for her to reconsider her previous position and vote the way her constituency insisted that she voted. And she’s paying the price for it. And who’s behind it? Let’s just say those who were in favor of gay marriage. That’s the best I can say.”
Gay rights attorney Patrick Wojahn, who serves as board chair for the Equality Maryland Foundation, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, described as a “red herring” Gordon’s claim that Alston was singled out for prosecution due to her flip-flop on the marriage bill.
“These are completely separate issues,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any likelihood that the state prosecutor would care about a legislative issue.”
Lisa Polyak, board chair of Equality Maryland, said Gordon’s claim that Alston’s indictment was linked to her views on the marriage bill came as a surprise to the group.
“Our focus continues to be on achieving equal treatment under the law for the LGBT community of Maryland, and we welcome Del. Alston’s assistance in this struggle,” Polyak said. “Mr. Gordon’s remarks are disappointing, as they seem to scapegoat our community as a means to achieve fair treatment for his client.”