Smigiel Launches Cecil County Judge Campaign with Legal Flub: Cribbing Official State Court Seal

September 12, 2011
By

A Cecil Times Special Report

Delegate Michael Smigiel (R-36) has launched his long-anticipated campaign for a Cecil County Circuit Court judgeship with a major legal flub: a fundraising appeal that misappropriated the official seal of a state judicial agency.

Documents obtained by The Cecil Times show that Smigiel pitched his candidacy—which had not yet been listed as officially filed in the state Board of Elections database as of Monday—with a plea for campaign donations under the official seal of the state Administrative Office of the Courts. After some recipients of his letter questioned the propriety of its content, Smigiel had to issue an apology both to the recipients and the state court office.

The misappropriation of the state courts’ official seal by Smigiel is ironic, since he railed loudly and at length against the citizens’ group, “Friends of Charter,” which had used the Cecil County seal—which was not copyrighted at the time—on literature supporting adoption of a charter form of government on the 2010 ballot. Smigiel and his political compadre, Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36), strongly opposed a shift to charter government in the county but voters rejected their position and approved charter by an overwhelming margin.

Smigiel’s botched launch to his latest political campaign began with a letter dated 8/31/11, in which he made a fundraising appeal to fellow lawyers around the state. He wrote that, as a member of the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee, “I have consistently worked to protect the rights of those who have been injured through no fault of their own.”

But now, he wrote, “I feel an obligation to pursue a Judgeship” and claimed he was “uniquely qualified to serve on the bench.”

“I have an opportunity to run for one of two open positions on the Circuit Court and request any help you can provide me in supporting my campaign,” he wrote. He then asked for online campaign donations via his website or mailed contributions to his Elkton law office.

But the use of the court seal raised eyebrows in the legal community, since it could imply that Smigiel was endorsed by the Administrative Office of the Courts–which supervises the court system and oversees the process for selecting appointees to vacant court seats– or suggest that he had received an official nomination for the current lone vacant seat on the local Circuit Court.

(In fact, Smigiel did not apply to the judicial nominating panel that reviewed applicants’ credentials and has forwarded a list of five names to the Governor for his decision on an appointment to the vacant court seat, which is expected to be made soon. Since he did not participate in that process, Smigiel is ineligible for appointment to the open seat, although he is free to file as a candidate for a judgeship in the 2012 election.)

In a subsequent apology letter dated 9/7/11, Smigiel blamed a campaign volunteer for the problem. He said he had “reviewed the content” of the initial letter and was “hurrying out the door” to get to a meeting when he advised a “young lady who was volunteering to help with the campaign” to “add the authority” line to the letter. He said it was “my mistake” in assuming she knew what that meant. Under state election law, authority lines are required in campaign communications, and generally read, “By authority of (candidate’s campaign committee name), John Doe (or whomever), Treasurer.”

Smigiel wrote in his apology letter that the volunteer “found a seal of the Administrative Office of the Courts on the computer” and added it to the top of his campaign letter.

He said he was “shocked and horrified” to learn of the matter when an attorney called him to inquire about it. “All I can say is Mea Culpa,” Smigiel wrote.

“My apologizes [SIC] for any false impression which was given by the inadvertent addition of that seal,” Smigiel added. “Obviously, the Administrative Office of the Courts did NOT condone its use, nor did I.”

According to other documents obtained by Cecil Times, the legal counsel of the Administrative Office of the Courts is reviewing the entire matter, and the apology letter, and asked Smigiel to provide the office with the names of all those who would receive the apology letter. The matter was expected to be referred to the state Board of Elections for review.

The seal affair raises anew questions about Smigiel’s attention to legal details. During his tenure in the House of Delegates, he has repeatedly failed to comply with campaign finance laws’ mandated filing of campaign finance reports. He has been fined repeatedly by the state Board of Elections for missed deadlines in filing reports, in some cases well over a year late.

Smigiel’s intention to run for a judgeship was publicly announced on Friday by Adam Straight, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 2, at the FOP’s crab feast, according to multiple sources who were present at the event. Straight and the FOP were major donors to a slate of candidates backed by the Smipkin political organization in last year’s elections.

In the 2012 election, there will be two Cecil County Circuit Court seats on a non-partisan ballot. Judicial candidates run in both the Democratic and Republican primaries and the top vote-getters in each primary go on to the general election ballot. With two seats at stake, there could be four or more candidates appearing on the November, 2012 ballot.

Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Keith Baynes, who received an appointment to a vacant seat on the court last December, has already announced he will be running in the election for his seat. Baynes, a Republican, has the distinction of being one of the few Republicans to receive a judicial appointment from the Democratic governor, Martin O’Malley. O’Malley aides told Cecil Times that the appointment was made without regard to political party and that the governor felt Baynes was highly qualified for the seat. [See previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2011/01/keith-baynes-r-named-to-circuit-court-2012-election-contest-expected/ ]

There is currently one more vacant seat on the local Circuit Court and five names have been sent to the governor, who told the nominees recently that he expected to fill the vacancy in September. Whoever is appointed to that seat will have to defend it in the 2012 election.

Under state law, Circuit Court judges have to stand for election in the first election after their appointment and if they win, they enjoy a 15-year term before their next stand for election.

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7 Responses to Smigiel Launches Cecil County Judge Campaign with Legal Flub: Cribbing Official State Court Seal

  1. Natalie Ricci on September 12, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    And we are surprised by all of this why???? How fitting that Smiegel blames a volunteer (who probably doesn’t even exist) for such a faux pax — I mean it sets him up to represent the volunteer when and if the Administrative Office of the Courts and/or the Ethics Commission bring suit.

    He says he has dedicated his life to representing the rights of those who are injured through no fault of their own. I’d certainly say this circumstance qualifies; guess he must be hard up for new clients, so now he’s manufacturing them!

  2. Joe on September 12, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    That’s it, Mikey, shift the blame.

  3. Alexis on September 12, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Smigiel used the state seal as the background for a group photo of the Smigiel/Pipkin (SMIPKIN)”Fiscal Conservative Team” slate. The photo was used in a mailer for the slate. Ironic to hear the SMIPKIN whine about use of the county seal. Of course the county spent time and money addressing the non-issue to placate the bullies. I wonder if the “volunteer” is the same “constituent” Smigiel always references when whining about one of his issues.

  4. TOO MUCH GOVERNMENT on September 13, 2011 at 8:12 am

    So predictable of Smiegel to shift the blame. DEJAVU. This guy sucks every last dime out of Cecil Co. and some people still will vote for him. Unbelievable. I wonder what the average mentality score is of the good old boys network? Wake up Cecil County, and smell the coffee. This is the same guy who represents drug dealers and dirt bags, for money in his pocket. He is not a public defender; he can pick which clients he represents.

  5. Al Reasin on September 13, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Alexis: Neither was he or his PAC members tested and approved by the CC TEA Party as his general statement on the campaign advertisement contended. As with any person, a single mistake is generally not a concern, but when there is a history of pushing the envelope on such things, it is obvious no lessons have been learned.

  6. Bing on September 14, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Strange article in the Cecil Whig today. Smigiel’s “stupid mistake” excuse does not clarify the matter of the campaign funding solicitation letter. A clearer picture appeared earlier on Cecil Times, but questions remain.

    Why was no authority line included? Why was the Administrative Office of the Courts seal on Smigiel’s computer, or did the mistake include cut and paste? Why did Smigiel contact the Maryland Department of Legal Services for an opinion when the violations are not under their jurisdiction? Does Smigiel’s “big rollout” include unleashing the Smipkins on his opponents and their supporters?

  7. Ed on September 19, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    What legitimate reason could there be for him to have an AOC seal on his computer? If he was “hurrying out the door,” who signed these letters? Have neither he nor his co-conspirators on the County Commission ever heard of the Maryland Open Meetings Act?

    If (as Smigiel alleged in the “Cecil Whig” article) “these kinds of mistakes happen all the time,” I defy him to name one other instance in which a sitting member of the House of Delegates has distributed a fundraising letter for a judicial campaign bearing the seal of the Administrative Office of the Courts, but omitting the “authority line,” before even filing his candidacy papers. Fer cryin’ out loud, this is his THIRD run for Circuit Court!

    Smigiel has no regard for the law. He can’t be bothered to familiarize himself with the niceties of Maryland’s campaign finance law. He thumbs his nose at the Circuit Court by agreeing to substitute as counsel for a defendant whose criminal trial is scheduled to begin while the General Assembly is in session. I’ve lost count of the frivilous lawsuits he has filed against the State.

    Smigiel either can’t tell the truth or he can’t tell the difference between the truth and a lie. Either way he has no business running for Circuit Judge.

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