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In the Media: Nero Trial & What Constitutes an Assault; Significant Irregularities in Election Votes

A digest of Baltimore news from local sources.

From the Baltimore Sun: Prosecutors, defense disagree in closings on what constitutes an assault at Officer Edward Nero’s trial

"In an unprecedented effort to attach criminal liability to everyday policing tactics, prosecutors zeroed in Thursday on a two-minute interaction to argue that Officer Edward Nero assaulted Freddie Gray.

"They said Nero did so not by injuring Gray in any way, but by detaining him without asking why the stop was justified.

"Under intense questioning from Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams during closing arguments in Nero's trial, Deputy State's Attorney Janice Bledsoe acknowledged the potentially broad implications of the theory — saying such scenarios routinely play out between police and Baltimore citizens.

"'That's what happens in the city all the time. People get jacked up in the city all the time,' Bledsoe said

"'Every time there is an arrest without probable cause, it is a crime?' Williams repeatedly asked, until Bledsoe hesitantly replied that it would depend on the circumstances.

"Marc Zayon, Nero's attorney, argued that his client followed established legal precedent surrounding when and how police officers may stop fleeing suspects. Even if Nero had strayed from such precedent, Zayon said, it wouldn't amount to a crime.

"'Like it or not, that's the law,' Zayon said, glancing at the prosecutors.

"The discussion illustrated one of the potentially most far-reaching assertions in the state's cases against Nero and the five other officers charged in Gray's arrest and death: that officers who stray from laws surrounding the search and seizure of suspects are not only liable to administrative reprimand, the tossing of evidence in court and civil lawsuits, but criminal charges as well."

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From the Baltimore Sun: State Review finds ‘significant’ irregularities in Baltimore election

"About 1,000 more votes were cast during Baltimore's primary election than there were voters who checked in at the polls, an ongoing state review has found.

"State elections officials said Thursday that workers examining Baltimore's election have uncovered 'significant' problems. They have found more than 450 provisional ballots that were not considered by election judges. And nearly 800 provisional ballots — given to voters whose eligibility is in question — were improperly counted before eligibility was verified, officials said.

"Most of the problems were caused by untrained judges scanning ballots into the system that they shouldn't have, said Linda H. Lamone, Maryland's elections administrator. The state might not get to the bottom of every problem, she told the State Board of Elections.

"'There will be precincts that cannot be explained,' Lamone said. 'We don't know what happened. The numbers simply don't match.'

"State officials ordered Baltimore's election results decertified last week amid concerns about voting irregularities. For several days, election workers from across the region have conducted a precinct-level review of the city's primary."

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From the Washington Post: Meet the Maryland man who’s taking on one of the largest U.S. water utilities

"Having recently retired, Richard D. Boltuck had a bit more time to turn over his water bill and examine how, exactly, his utility had calculated it.

"He noticed back then, in 2009, something that he — and, he believes, many other residents of Maryland’s Washington suburbs — hadn’t realized. His water and sewer utility, one of the largest in the United States, has had a unique billing system, in place since 1978, that Boltuck believes discriminates against households with three or more people because it can make them pay more per gallon than smaller households. That, he says, violates the Maryland utility law that requires 'just and reasonable' rates.

"Boltuck, an economist, decided to take on his utility, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), by filing a complaint last summer with the Maryland Public Service Commission. The commission doesn’t regulate WSSC’s rates — the Montgomery and Prince George’s county councils approve them with each annual budget — but it hears appeals about utility rates in the state.

"What followed is nearly a year of legal research, brief writing and photocopying — all on his own time and dime. Boltuck, who doesn’t have a law degree, estimates that he spends an average of 15 to 20 hours a week on the case and has spent hundreds of dollars in copy fees. (Each brief filing requires 17 or so copies.) Though he lacks legal training, he said his career as an economist left him adept at analyzing documents.

"And if, after all this, he wins? Boltuck’s water and sewer bill are likely to go up. As a two-person household in Bethesda, he and his wife are probably  paying below-average rates made up for by the higher rates his larger-household neighbors are paying.

“'This is not a matter of self-interest for me,' Boltuck, 61, said after a day-long evidentiary hearing Wednesday before the commission’s chief public utility law judge in Baltimore. 'This is something I discovered that seemed very unfair. … Common sense tells you that in larger families, budgets are more stretched with fewer income streams supporting more people.'

"Attorneys for the Maryland Office of the People’s Counsel, an independent state agency that represents the interests of utility customers, have sided with Boltuck, calling WSSC’s billing structure 'arbitrary and capricious.' WSSC serves nearly 2 million people in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties."

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