An attorney for a Prince George’s County delegate accused of misusing General Assembly funds sought Thursday to discredit the investigation that led to his client’s indictment.
As the trial of freshman Del. Tiffany Alston (D-Dist. 24) of Mitchellville entered its third day, her attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, argued investigators from the state prosecutor’s office had for months neglected to contact the delegate’s chief of staff, whose testimony would have undermined the charges.
Prosecutors allege Alston had added a staff member from her Lanham law practice, Rayshawn Ford, to the state payroll in January 2011 to work as a legislative clerk, but that Ford continued to work at the law firm — drawing $800 in salary before resigning later that month.
When questioned by Gordon, investigator Aimie Shreves said her office hadn’t contacted Nefetari Smith, Alston’s chief of staff and best friend, until just a few days before the trial began.
Gordon suggested Smith would have told investigators Ford was doing legislative work in Alston’s district office, located within her law office. He questioned whether it was proper for investigators not to speak to Smith sooner, and Shreves explained investigators were concerned Smith’s testimony wouldn’t be trustworthy because of her personal relationship with Alston.
Gordon also accused investigators of trying to contact Ford personally, rather than the attorney she’d hired to advise her, a practice he suggested was unethical. Shreves replied Ford never told investigators who her lawyer was.
Alston was elected to state office in 2010 to the seat previously held for 20 years by Joanne C. Benson (D) of Mitchellville, now a state senator.
Alston was indicted in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in December, and charged with misdemeanor theft of less than $1,000, as well as misconduct in office.
Prosecutors initially indicted Alston in September on charges she had taken money from her election campaign for personal expenses, including a $1,250 cash withdrawal, $660 that went to pay a law firm employee and about $3,600 for wedding expenses. The checks for the wedding costs were returned for insufficient funds, according to prosecutors.
A trial on the initial charges is scheduled for October. Alston faces a total of seven counts, including one count of felony theft that could bring as many as 10 years in jail.
Jury selection lasted for several hours Tuesday, and the final panel includes seven women and five men. The trial is expected to last five days.
Alston’s attorneys have suggested that both sets of charges were retaliatory, intended to punish Alston for skipping a committee vote on legislation she co-sponsored to legalize same-sex marriage in 2011 and for delaying a Legislative Black Caucus vote on Gov. Martin O’Malley’s congressional redistricting plan in October 2011.
The state prosecutor, Emmet Davitt, was appointed by O’Malley, Gordon told reporters Tuesday, but stopped short of alleging the charges were an act of retribution by the governor. The jury might be able to make that inference, he said.
Davitt told reporters his office was independent, and neither O’Malley nor his staff had communicated with the office on Alston’s case.
Alston also appeared before the Maryland Court of Appeals on Thursday morning, where a lawyer from the state Attorney Grievance Commission argued Alston’s law license should be indefinitely suspended for improper conduct, including an occasion where she failed to appear in court.
Alston offered a tearful response to the seven judges, acknowledging she had made mistakes. Alston said she was phasing out her law practice to focus on her career in public service, and argued indefinite suspension was too harsh.
“I value my license, and I would like to keep it, whether I practice or not,” Alston said.