Committee Wants Md. Democratic Party to Oust Oaks for ‘Malfeasance in Office’

The Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee is asking the Maryland Democratic Party to oust Nathaniel T. Oaks from his position representing the 41st District on the panel for “malfeasance in office,” after he pleaded guilty to two federal felonies last month.
Scherod C. Barnes, chairman of the city’s Democratic State Central Committee, announced at a meeting of the group Wednesday night that earlier in the day he had sent the request in a certified letter, along with petitions demanding Oaks’ removal from the party office.

Barnes said he first had obtained verification by the Maryland State Board of Elections of 98 names and addresses of 41st District voters who signed the petitions, as required by the party bylaws.

“That’s just an informational thing. We don’t have to vote on it; we’re just doing it,” Barnes told the central committee. “I just wanted to bring it to you all’s attention that that is taking place.”  
                                          
Barnes told members of the committee that he was pursuing Oaks’ ouster for “malfeasance in office,” rather than for “conviction of a felony,” because the definition of “conviction” is unspecific and could likely hinge on the date of his sentencing – scheduled for July 17 before a federal judge in Baltimore — and not on the March 29 date of his guilty plea.
  Flanked by members of the executive committee, Scherod C. Barnes, chairman of the Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee, explains the latest efforts Wednesday to remove Nathaniel T. Oaks from the panel representing the 41st District/William F. Zorzi He also said he sent Oaks a certified letter Wednesday notifying him that the Democratic Party was taking steps for his removal from the central committee.Oaks resigned his Senate seat two hours before pleading guilty in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to one charge of wire fraud and one charge of honest services wire fraud, stemming from a political corruption investigation in which he took $15,300 in bribes from an FBI undercover source.
Barnes’s referral Wednesday to the Maryland Democratic Party came a day after a vote by the 41st District Democratic State Central Committee on someone to finish the last eight months of Oaks’ state Senate term.

Despite anticipation that Oaks would attend the meeting – and vote for his own successor – he did not appear Tuesday night.

After five ballots, a majority of the committee was unable to back just one candidate; so, the members decided to send two names to Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. and give him the decision to pick the next 41st District senator. On Wednesday, Barnes sent Hogan the two names.

They are Jill P. Carter, a former member of the House of Delegates, now Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh’s director of civil rights, who is running for the 41st District Senate seat in the June 26 Democratic primary; and Joyce J. Smith, a member of the 41st District central committee for the last 12 years who is running in the primary for a district House seat.

Hogan has 15 days to pick between the two as a replacement for Oaks.
Barnes also sent letters about the 41st District central committee’s actions Tuesday to Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore City), who chairs the city Senate delegation.

Once the request for Oaks’ removal from the central committee is in the hands of Kathleen A. Matthews, chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, the process for removal begins.

First, under the bylaws, Matthews has five days to refer the matter to the Maryland Democratic Party’s Credentials Committee, made up of one central committee member from each of the state’s 24 subdivisions.

Within 15 days of receiving the referral from Matthews, the Credentials Committee must have a hearing.

“I’ll go down and plead my case on why he needs to be removed,” Barnes explained.

“He has a right to be there, to appear,” he said. “If he doesn’t, they will take my recommendation, if I’m the only one there, and give it to Kathleen [Matthews], and say, ‘This is the decision of the Credentials Committee: We agree with the Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee in a removal,’ and then that will become official, when she gets that.”

Once a decision is made, Matthews would notify the parties of the decision by certified mail within five days of receiving the Credentials Committee recommendation. Technically, however, if the Credentials Committee recommends removal to Matthews, the ouster automatically takes effect, under the bylaws.

Oaks would still have a right to appeal, although that is seen as unlikely. Within 15 business days of being notified of removal, the bylaws state, he could ask to have the decision reviewed by the executive committee of the Maryland Democratic State Central Committee, whose decision would be final.
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William F. Zorzi
Bill Zorzi was a Baltimore Sun reporter and editor for nearly 20 years, focusing on government and politics. An Annapolis bureau veteran, he wrote a weekly column, “The Political Game” for the paper.Zorzi and another former Sun reporter, David Simon, are longtime collaborators on acclaimed television projects, including the HBO series, “The Wire,” and the HBO miniseries “Show Me a Hero,” which dealt with an explosive housing desegregation case in Yonkers, NY.

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