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House Republican Leadership in Flux After Harassment Charges Filed Against Leader

Del. Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The Maryland House Republican Caucus is in flux ahead of a leadership election, mere days after harassment charges were levied against House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany) in relation to his pending divorce.

UPDATE: Frederick Prosecutor Dismisses Harassment Charges Against House Minority Leader

Del. Christopher T. Adams (R-Middle Shore) resigned from his position as House minority whip on Monday, and is expected to run for a leadership position on a separate slate from Buckel’s when the GOP caucus next meets ahead of the next General Assembly session, which begins on Jan. 12.

“Most of what I would hope comes from this is a straightforward dialogue that will happen privately within the caucus,” Adams said in a phone interview Tuesday. “At this point, I’m no longer the whip and … this is more about what the membership wants and not necessarily about what, you know, I want.”

The Daily Record first reported Adams’ resignation Monday night.

Adams stepped down following a criminal court filing against Buckel.

Last week, a Maryland State Police trooper filed an application for a statement of charges in Allegany County District Court against Buckel for harassment. The complaint details more than three dozen messages the man said Buckel sent him through Facebook Messenger, most of which he characterized as threatening in nature.

The court records indicate the trooper had a relationship with Buckel’s estranged wife, which prompted an angry response including threats of physical harm from the lawmaker.

On one occasion, the trooper alleges that Buckel sent more than a half-dozen messages in the 3 a.m. hour on Sept. 26, threatening to take his job and pension and to “destroy” and “bury” him. Other messages included threats of harm from Buckel’s supporters.

The complainant filed the application for a statement of charges in his capacity as a Maryland State Police trooper, listing the Allegany County barracks as his address.

Buckel, an attorney in private practice in Cumberland, said during a phone interview Monday afternoon that he believes the way the complaint was filed constitutes police misconduct, and has contacted the Maryland State Police. In a text Tuesday afternoon, Buckel said his attorneys have informed him that the charges against him have been dismissed.

Frederick County State’s Attorney J. Charles Smith III (R) told Maryland Matters that his office, which has taken on the case from the Allegany County State’s Attorney’s office to avoid a conflict of interest, would likely decide whether to pursue the charges against Buckel by the end of the day Tuesday.

‘We have to be fully focused’

Adams said Tuesday that whoever is in charge of the House Minority Caucus needs to be “completely focused on the task at hand” and that he has concerns about Buckel’s ability to do so.

“Everything we do as the Republican caucus is defending citizens against government overreach, you know, issues with public safety — these are not easy issues to consider and also create a caucus-wide position. And so when I say that we have to be fully focused, I’m speaking plainly to this issue,” Adams said. “I can’t reconcile what I’m seeing in the news with the degree of responsibility that comes from being, you know, leader.”

Asked if he had spoken to Buckel about his decision to resign as minority whip, Adams said he had not; Buckel said Tuesday that he plans to continue in his position as House minority leader.

“I’m extremely disappointed in Delegate Adams and his actions and am happy he had resigned as whip,” he wrote.

Adams said that he felt the minority leader should have been forthright about his legal troubles, and had been unresponsive to Adams regarding unrelated matters, like the ongoing redistricting battle to be waged in the General Assembly during the 2022 legislative session.

“Trying to reconcile this through a verbal conversation with Jason just wasn’t gonna help, it wasn’t gonna change my mind,” Adams said.

In an effort to demonstrate to fellow Republicans that he is “not a quitter,” Adams said that he wrote in his resignation letter that he would be interested in pursuing a leadership position in the caucus again — “just not with Jason.”

“So if the membership wants to go that route, it’s available to them,” said Adams. “If Jason wants to stay on and he can … find another person that’s willing to serve, then certainly the caucus can and should weigh in on that. And I’m certainly of the belief that the caucus is capable of coming to some resolution to this quickly.”

Buckel and Adams were elected to their caucus leadership positions in April, one day after the end of the regular 2021 session. They replaced Dels. Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) and Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County), who had held the minority leader and whip posts, respectively, for seven years.

Earlier in his tenure as minority leader, Buckel was criticized for signing on to a letter from Western Maryland lawmakers seeking to secede to West Virginia. At the time, Buckel said his electronic signature had been attached to the letter by others and he only read the message after it had been sent. He and others later disavowed the letter.

Adams said that the letter, which he called “outrageous,” factored into his decision to step down.

“It was also the way that Jason later explained … or sort of modified his original position on that,” Adams said.

The trooper who sought criminal charges against Buckel indicated in his court filing that he would also file a formal complaint with the General Assembly; as a matter of law, legislative leaders are prohibited from commenting on the existence of any ethics complaint.

Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report. 


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House Republican Leadership in Flux After Harassment Charges Filed Against Leader