Mary­land’s gov­er­nor

Md. gov­er­nor’s claim that jurist lives along planned route is false

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY KATHER­INE SHAVER AND SPENCER HSU

said a judge de­cid­ing whether the state can start build­ing the Pur­ple Line is bi­ased.

Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) has pub­licly crit­i­cized a fed­eral judge weigh­ing whether to al­low the state to be­gin build­ing the Pur­ple Line, say­ing the judge is bi­ased be­cause of where he lives and his wife’s con­nec­tion to a group that has op­posed the light-rail project.

The prob­lem: The gov­er­nor’s state­ments about the judge liv­ing along the Pur­ple Line route are in­cor­rect, and the “op­po­nent group” for which Ho­gan said the judge’s wife works ap­pears to be an um­brella civic group whose lead­ers say they can’t re­call her ever at­tend­ing a meet­ing.

Ho­gan made the com­ments about U.S. Dis­trict Judge Richard J. Leon on Wed­nes­day af­ter tak­ing um­brage at a re­porter who asked whether the gov­er­nor re­gret­ted “putting the Pur­ple Line on hold” when he took of­fice. Ho­gan had crit­i­cized the lightrail project dur­ing the gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign as be­ing too ex­pen­sive but gave it the go-ahead six

months af­ter tak­ing of­fice in Jan­uary 2015, say­ing that the state had re­duced its up­front con­struc­tion costs.

“We made the de­ci­sion to move for­ward. . . . we com­mit­ted the fund­ing,” Ho­gan said. “Now there’s a judge who hap­pens to live at the coun­try club that the thing runs through that’s making the de­ci­sion to hold it up.”

Ho­gan added, “Right now, even with fed­eral fund­ing, we can’t move for­ward be­cause of a judge who lives at Chevy Chase Coun­try Club.”

Leon’s Chevy Chase home is two miles from the clos­est planned Pur­ple Line sta­tion and about three miles from Columbia Coun­try Club, which has pre­vi­ously fought the light-rail project be­cause trains would bi­sect its golf course.

The Chevy Chase Club, which is a dif­fer­ent coun­try club and has not vo­cally op­posed the Pur­ple Line, is 11/ miles north of the

2 judge’s home.

Ho­gan also said he told U.S. Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Elaine Chao in a re­cent meet­ing that the project needs the $900 mil­lion in fed­eral con­struc­tion aid that the state has been ex­pect­ing.

“But Sec­re­tary Chao can’t do any­thing about a judge whose wife hap­pens to be in­volved in the op­po­nent group and who has a con­flict of in­ter­est who’s making the de­ci­sion to hold this up,” Ho­gan told re­porters.

Leon de­clined to com­ment through a court spokes­woman and did not re­spond to emailed ques­tions.

Ho­gan’s ac­cu­sa­tions are re­mark­able be­cause they come at a del­i­cate time for the project. Leon is re­con­sid­er­ing his Au­gust or­der that sus­pended the Pur­ple Line’s fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal ap­proval, which the state needs to clinch the crit­i­cal fed­eral con­struc­tion grants. Mean­while, fed­eral grants for new tran­sit projects have be­come pre­car­i­ous un­der a re­cent Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­posal to abol­ish money for any projects that don’t al­ready have fed­eral fund­ing agree­ments.

Amelia Chasse, a Ho­gan spokes­woman, said Thurs­day that the gov­er­nor is frus­trated by Leon’s “in­ex­pli­ca­ble de­lay” in is­su­ing his lat­est rul­ing.

Chasse said Ho­gan wants to move for­ward on a project in which the state has al­ready in­vested more than $300 mil­lion.

“He is frus­trated by the de­lays stem­ming from this judge and con­cerned about the dis­turb­ing re­ports that con­flicts of in­ter­est could be at play in the process,” Chasse said.

The “op­po­nent group” that the gov­er­nor said Chris­tine Leon is ac­tive in ap­pears to be the Cit­i­zens Co­or­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee on Friend­ship Heights, an um­brella civic group that in­cludes the Leons’ neigh­bor­hood or­ga­ni­za­tion, the Brook­dale Cit­i­zens’ As­so­ci­a­tion.

Chris­tine Leon is one of about 25 block cap­tains in the Brook­dale Cit­i­zens’ As­so­ci­a­tion, a role that as­so­ci­a­tion lead­ers de­scribe as cir­cu­lat­ing the group’s oc­ca­sional news­let­ters and wel­com­ing new res­i­dents. The Brook­dale as­so­ci­a­tion has not taken a po­si­tion on the Pur­ple Line, lead­ers said.

Two lead­ers of the Cit­i­zens Co­or­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee on Friend­ship Heights said they could not re­call see­ing Chris­tine Leon at a meet­ing. A Friend­ship Heights com­mit­tee rep­re­sen­ta­tive tes­ti­fied against the Pur­ple Line’s draft en­vi­ron­men­tal study in 2008, say­ing that the state hadn’t suf­fi­ciently stud­ied the im­pact from new devel­op­ment that the Pur­ple Line would bring or fully con­sid­ered al­ter­na­tive align­ments that would spare the wooded Cap­i­tal Cres­cent Trail — al­le­ga­tions also raised by the plain­tiffs op­pos­ing the project.

Bob Cope, a past chair of the Friend­ship Heights group who also lives in the Brook­dale area, said the group hasn’t ac­tively op­posed the Pur­ple Line since 2008, and he doesn’t re­call see­ing the judge or Chris­tine Leon at a Friend­ship Heights meet­ing.

As a block cap­tain, Cope said, Chris­tine Leon’s main du­ties would be dis­tribut­ing the Brook­dale Bu­gle four times a year and keep­ing the neigh­bor­hood phone di­rec­tory up to date for her street’s res­i­dents.

“How do you get from block cap­tain to con­flict of in­ter­est, un­less you jump through re­al­ity?” Cope said.

In ex­plain­ing the gov­er­nor’s re­marks, Chasse emailed snip­pets from three me­dia sto­ries that in­cluded al­le­ga­tions from tran­sit ac­tivists that the lo­ca­tion of the judge’s home and his wife’s in­volve­ment in their civic group posed po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est.

One of the ac­counts Chasse sent was a WAMU story stat­ing that Leon lives across the street from Martin Wie­gand, a former vice pres­i­dent of the Columbia Coun­try Club. The club had op­posed the Pur­ple Line be­fore reach­ing an agree­ment with the state in 2013.

Reached Thurs­day, Wie­gand said he was “quite up­set” to be linked to any al­le­ga­tions of ju­di­cial bias. He said that the Leons live sev­eral houses over, across the street, and that he rarely runs into them.

“I’ve never spo­ken with Judge Leon about the Pur­ple Line,” Wie­gand said. “I haven’t spo­ken to Judge Leon in prob­a­bly three years. Judge Leon is one of the finest peo­ple I’ve met, and a con­flict of in­ter­est would not be some­thing he’d be in­volved with.”

Chasse said Ho­gan stands by his com­ments. It’s un­clear how far Ho­gan plans to take the al­le­ga­tions.

The of­fice of Mary­land At­tor­ney Gen­eral Brian E. Frosh (D), which rep­re­sents the state in the Pur­ple Line law­suit, has not filed any mo­tions ask­ing Leon to re­cuse him­self. Frosh’s of­fice re­ferred ques­tions to the gov­er­nor’s of­fice.

A state of­fi­cial, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied be­cause of the pend­ing law­suit and per­son­nel lim­i­ta­tions, said, “There are no pend­ing al­le­ga­tions of con­flicts in this case.”

A spokesman for the Jus­tice Depart­ment de­clined to com­ment on Ho­gan’s state­ments.

When asked why the state hadn’t re­quested that the judge re­cuse him­self, Chasse said in an email that the at­tor­ney gen­eral and the Jus­tice Depart­ment have asked Leon to rule by April 28.

“We’ll see what hap­pens at that point,” she said.

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