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Cecil County Asks ‘Sanctions,’ $40K from Del. Smigiel for Costs of his Losing Lawsuit Against County Exec Over Political Party Shift

November 10, 2013
By Nancy Schwerzler

The Cecil County government is seeking court “sanctions” against Del. Michael Smigiel and repayment of nearly $40,000 the county spent to defend itself against a losing lawsuit by Smigiel challenging County Executive Tari Moore’s post-election shift from Republican to “unaffiliated.” A judge ruled several weeks ago that Smigiel’s case had “no support whatsoever” in the law and that the Elkton lawyer hadn’t even bothered to file responding briefs in the case.

It is Smigiel’s failure to take any action in his case after the initial filing of a complaint last January that is at the heart of the motion filed several days ago by Jason Allison, the Cecil County Attorney. The motion details how Smigiel repeatedly did “nothing” to bolster or argue his case and that he failed to respond to repeated legal warnings that his case was fundamentally deficient. Consequently, Allison contends Smigiel acted in “bad faith” and the Circuit Court should impose “sanctions” and require Smigiel to reimburse the county for its legal expenses in the case.

Smigiel filed the case on behalf of Chris Zeauskas, chair of the county’s Republican Central Committee, but the county is not seeking any sanctions or reimbursements from Zeauskas. A solid majority of the GOP committee was elected on a “slate” backed and financed by Smigiel and ex-Sen. E.J. Pipkin as part of the “Smipkin” political machine.

“Once the complaint was filed and the political headline had hit the front page of the local newspapers, both the plaintiff and his attorney virtually disappeared,” Allison wrote.

“Beneath the thin veneer, it is apparent that this action was initiated for two reasons: to make a public political splash, and in the process, to vex, delay, and oppress the efficient functioning of county government,” the county attorney said.

Smigiel’s conduct displayed “a rather startling amount of inertia on the part of plaintiff’s counsel in furthering his client’s case post-filing, a ‘radio silence’ and gross inaction that can be characterized as nothing other than bad faith,” Allison wrote. And, in legalese, Smigiel acted “vexatiously, wantonly or for oppressive reasons,” the county attorney added.

The county had to take Smigiel’s lawsuit seriously, and hired a Baltimore County law firm specializing in local government law as well as requiring Allison’s services in the case. The motion for sanctions states that the county’s legal bills are more than $38,000 plus costs of $1,051, for a total of $39,051 in costs to the taxpayers of Cecil County.

Smigiel, a Republican, has campaigned for his state Delegate seat in the four counties of the 36th District as a “fiscal conservative” who seeks to lower taxes and government costs borne by taxpayers. His Delegate seat is up for election in 2014.

Smigiel ran his first Cecil County-only political campaign in 2012, when he was resoundingly defeated in his bid to become a Circuit Court judge. Recently, Smigiel lost his bid for appointment to the Senate seat vacated by his old ally, Pipkin, who resigned and moved to Texas. Smigiel alleged he was deprived of the Senate seat he thought was rightfully his by “outside forces” when the GOP committees in the District deadlocked between his candidacy and that of Del. Steve Hershey, R-Queen Anne’s County. Gov. Martin O’Malley broke the tie, as provided under the state Constitution, and picked Hershey because he had more individual votes in the last general election and in the GOP committee voting process.

While Allison’s motion is both legally and politically pointed in its language assessing Smigiel’s handling of this case, it is more subdued than a tough letter to the Cecil County liquor board filed by an independent Elkton attorney about a year ago. That letter offered a detailed assessment, in consideration of state law and ethics rules for attorneys, of Smigiel’s conduct in a case involving the old “Bittersweet” golf course that was facing charges of flagrantly violating directives and licensing rules set by the county liquor board. In that case—as well as in the recent case Smigiel filed against the county government—Smigiel asserted his legislative privilege under state law to delay legal hearings because the General Assembly was in session.

Smigiel also filed a lawsuit in 2002—an election year when he first sought and won his Delegate seat—on behalf of a “Jane Doe” against the then-Sheriff that got lots of headlines and political attention but he failed to pursue the case after the election. That case was dismissed by the courts for Smigiel’s failure to “prosecute” his claims post-election. Taxpayers had to bear the costs of the sheriff’s legal defense, but the amount was not disclosed at the time and no attempts to recover costs from Smigiel were pursued.

Smigiel has also filed multiple lawsuits against state officials, and Allison’s motion noted that background to bolster his argument that Smigiel knew, or should have known, the legal standards required to file and pursue his recent case against the County Executive.

“…An attorney with Smigiel’s credentials and experience in government litigation either knew, or should well have known, that the pleading filed in this case was patently groundless,” Allison wrote. And even after legal motions filed in court by the county, and three letters to Smigiel by the county’s lawyers, Smigiel still failed to respond or voluntarily drop his case despite warnings of its legal deficiencies.

Smigiel’s original case challenged the process for filling the then-vacant seat on the new Cecil County Council that was vacated by Tari Moore, a former county commissioner who was elected as the first County Executive under Charter government. Under the Charter, if Moore had been a Republican at the time she resigned her legislative seat, the GOP Central Committee would have had the power to pick three names and forward them to the new County Council to choose a replacement for Moore.

But shortly before the transition to Charter, Moore gave up her Republican Party ties and shifted to “unaffiliated,” with the result that the GOP party panel was shut out of the process. However, the new County Council deadlocked, 2-2, on even how to proceed in discussing how to fill the vacancy, and under the Charter Moore was then empowered to pick her own replacement on the Council. She chose Joyce Bowlsbey, a Republican, to fill the District 2 seat.

Moore’s shift to unaffiliated came after intense pressure from many fellow Republicans, and county voters of all political stripes, to block the Smipkin-ruled GOP Central Committee from installing yet another Smipkin ally that would perpetuate the old “Three Amigos” majority faction of the former County Commissioners that tied county government in knots for over two years.

For the previous Cecil Times report on the recent court ruling dismissing Smigiel’s lawsuit, including the judge’s pointed analysis of Smigiel’s handling of the case, read it here:
http://ceciltimes.com/2013/10/cecil-county-execs-unaffiliated-party-move-appointment-of-bowlsbey-to-council-upheld-by-judge-smigiel-suit-dismissed/

And for the Cecil Times report on Smigiel’s original lawsuit filing, read it here:

http://ceciltimes.com/2013/01/joyce-bowlsbey-former-charter-panel-chair-named-to-cecil-county-council-del-smigiel-files-suit-against-county-exec-moore/

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4 Responses to Cecil County Asks ‘Sanctions,’ $40K from Del. Smigiel for Costs of his Losing Lawsuit Against County Exec Over Political Party Shift

  1. John Cole on November 12, 2013 at 4:05 am

    I would suggest that this matter goes beyond the filing of a “Frivolous Lawsuit” into a blatant case of contempt of court.

    At the time of filing, Smigiel knew, or should have known, that his case had no merit in law. In my opinion it was an attempt at intimidation and harassment, using the courts as a weapon. Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and similar state rules require that an attorney perform a due diligence investigation concerning the factual basis for any claim or defense.

    Had Smigiel withdrawn the complaint when confronted by Defendant’s motions that he had no intention of responding to, then I would not be talking about contempt. However, he allowed the case to go to court, despite not responding to motions, and ignoring letters from the defendant’s attorneys. This was contemptuous in so far as the court was required to convene and hear a case where the Plaintiff knew there was no legal merit.

    But don’t worry, folks – it’s your tax dollars!

  2. Stupid Intolerant on November 12, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Smigiel is such a mutt. We should have the Buddies pick him up, and lock him in their shelter in a wire crate…until he forks over the forty grand.

  3. Joe C on December 13, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    The way I figure it, Tari Moore owes 40K to the Republican Party and 40K to the taxpayers of Cecil County. Let’s not forget that none of this would have happened had she keep her word and remained a Republican that she alleged to be when she filed for office. Nothing changed from the time she filed to the election time with respect to the local political landscape. Therefore, it can only be concluded that she planned this deception from the beginning.

    • Stupid Intolerant on December 16, 2013 at 11:53 pm

      Pleeease Joe, why don’t you tell us exactly what the party did for the campaign. You see, most of us know the truth and that is the only thing your RCCC can raise is your voice. The plug nickel they spent you could have kept and it would not have changed a thing.

      Fact is, that committee is so dysfunctional (sans T.K.) thanks in part to the remaining Smipkin buffoons that no one trusted them to get anything right. Don’t despair, the voters will fix it soon.

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OUR CECIL COUNTY DELEGATE DELIVERED (Part 3)

Supporting Our First Responders

*Secured Mobile Command Unit Bus

*Helped obtain land for Perryville Fire Station 16

*Fought for traffic signal devices to aid emergency vehicles

*Hosted security/safety workshop on crude oil transports

And More to Come
(Auth: Citizens for David Rudolph, Linda S. Read, Treasurer)

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