Cecil County Asks ‘Sanctions,’ $40K from Del. Smigiel for Costs of his Losing Lawsuit Against County Exec Over Political Party Shift
The Cecil County government is seeking court âsanctionsâ 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 Mooreâs post-election shift from Republican to âunaffiliated.â A judge ruled several weeks ago that Smigielâs case had âno support whatsoeverâ in the law and that the Elkton lawyer hadnât even bothered to file responding briefs in the case.
It is Smigielâs 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 ânothingâ 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 âbad faithâ and the Circuit Court should impose âsanctionsâ 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 countyâs 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 âslateâ backed and financed by Smigiel and ex-Sen. E.J. Pipkin as part of the âSmipkinâ political machine.
âOnce 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,â Allison wrote.
âBeneath 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,â the county attorney said.
Smigielâs conduct displayed âa rather startling amount of inertia on the part of plaintiffâs counsel in furthering his clientâs case post-filing, a âradio silenceâ and gross inaction that can be characterized as nothing other than bad faith,â Allison wrote. And, in legalese, Smigiel acted âvexatiously, wantonly or for oppressive reasons,â the county attorney added.
The county had to take Smigielâs lawsuit seriously, and hired a Baltimore County law firm specializing in local government law as well as requiring Allisonâs services in the case. The motion for sanctions states that the countyâs 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 âfiscal conservativeâ 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 âoutside forcesâ when the GOP committees in the District deadlocked between his candidacy and that of Del. Steve Hershey, R-Queen Anneâs County. Gov. Martin OâMalley 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 Allisonâs motion is both legally and politically pointed in its language assessing Smigielâs 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 Smigielâs conduct in a case involving the old âBittersweetâ golf course that was facing charges of flagrantly violating directives and licensing rules set by the county liquor board. In that caseâas well as in the recent case Smigiel filed against the county governmentâSmigiel asserted his legislative privilege under state law to delay legal hearings because the General Assembly was in session.
Smigiel also filed a lawsuit in 2002âan election year when he first sought and won his Delegate seatâon behalf of a âJane Doeâ 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 Smigielâs failure to âprosecuteâ his claims post-election. Taxpayers had to bear the costs of the sheriffâs 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 Allisonâs 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.
ââŚAn attorney with Smigielâs credentials and experience in government litigation either knew, or should well have known, that the pleading filed in this case was patently groundless,â Allison wrote. And even after legal motions filed in court by the county, and three letters to Smigiel by the countyâs lawyers, Smigiel still failed to respond or voluntarily drop his case despite warnings of its legal deficiencies.
Smigielâs 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 âunaffiliated,â 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.
Mooreâs 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 âThree Amigosâ 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 Smigielâs lawsuit, including the judgeâs pointed analysis of Smigielâs handling of the case, read it here:
And for the Cecil Times report on Smigielâs original lawsuit filing, read it here: