Outside Prosecutor to Handle Probe of Court Clerk Conaway

… Prosecutors aim to avoid conflict of interest after official accused of brandishing gun …


By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

9:34 PM EST, November 23, 2011

An outside prosecutor is being called in to take charge of the investigation involving Baltimore Clerk of Circuit Court Frank M. Conaway Sr.’s expired gun permit, a spokesman for the Baltimore’s state’s attorney’s office said Wednesday.

Conaway “brandished” a firearm during an argument Monday with blogger Adam Meister outside Conaway’s Northwest Baltimore home, according to city police. Conaway has said Meister tried to kick him in an altercation that was observed by officers who happened to be nearby.

Conaway’s lawyer denies his client had a gun. Moreover, Conaway, 78, said he has a permit to carry a weapon.

But Maryland State Police spokeswoman Elena Russo said records show it expired in March.

The decision to turn to an outside prosecutor was made to avoid a conflict of interest or appearance of one, as both Conaway’s office and prosecutors work in the same city court system, Mark Cheshire, communications director for the city state’s attorney’s office, said in a statement.

Conaway referred questions to his lawyer.

“I think that’s ridiculous,” his attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, said of the case. “It’s basically a he-said, she-said. Why use resources of this city and perhaps another county to investigate a case that shouldn’t even exist?

“When you have a situation where you have a Jewish victim and an African-American male, you have things happen differently than if it happened to be a regular case,” he said. He suggested that “perhaps because of their commonality in their religion,” State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein was handling the Conaway investigation differently.

Carrying a handgun without a permit is a misdemeanor. The penalty ranges from 30 days to three years in jail. However, even if Conaway’s permit lapsed, he would be allowed to have the gun on his own property.

There were differing accounts of whether Conaway left his property.

Bernstein spokesman Cheshire did not return a call for comment on Gordon’s remarks, and he provided no further information about where the outside prosecutor would come from.

Meister, who is Jewish, said Wednesday that religion was irrelevant.

If this is only about people yelling at each other, Meister said, then it’s not much of an incident, but “if a gun was involved, it should be investigated.” Meister said he did not see a gun; that information came from police.

Prosecutors say they routinely bring in outsiders for cases that raise conflict-of-interest questions. Some of those conflicts may be political. But others may be personal, involving a relative of an employee in the office.

The altercation between Meister and Conaway was the latest twist in a political feud. In March, Meister examined property records and revealed that Conaway’s daughter, City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, was claiming homeowner tax credits on two properties — one of them in Baltimore County. Belinda Conaway filed a $21 million lawsuit against Meister, which she later dropped.

Conaway said Tuesday that he remained inside the fenced portion of his yard. Meister, who acknowledges yelling insults at Conaway while on a morning jog, said Conaway chased him down the sidewalk and threw a punch. Conaway said he did not attempt to punch Meister and countered with a claim that Meister tried to “karate kick” him. Meister said he didn’t try to kick Conaway.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.


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