Liquor Board Turmoil Winds Through Courts

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – A man ousted from a Maryland liquor board last year took his civil rights challenge to the Fourth Circuit just one day after his successor’s arrest on drunken-driving charges.

The Dec. 8 arrest of Charles Caldwell III is the latest scandal to rock the Board of License Commissioners in Prince George’s County, a five-person board that issues liquor licenses and regulates alcohol sales.

Caldwell, 72, had been chair of the board since March 2015 in what his predecessor, Franklin Jackson, described in a federal complaint as an apparent coup.

A Prince George’s County police report says Caldwell was charged with driving under the influence, reckless driving and other traffic offenses outside of the MGM National Harbor casino on its opening night.

No one was injured, but news reports say Caldwell was unable to pass a field sobriety test, refused a breathalyzer and asked the arresting officer to make the incident “go away.”

Reportedly blaming his inability to remain balanced on his age, however, Caldwell has publicly denied that he was impaired.

A day after Caldwell’s arrest – which Gov. Lawrence Hogan met with a call for the chair’s resignation – his predecessor Jackson filed a notice of appeal to revive his federal complaint against the governor.

In a phone interview Thursday, Jackson called the timing of his filing a coincidence. With 30 days to file, the former chairman said he was simply interested in “getting in the appeal by the end of week.”

Jackson said he had no idea of Caldwell’s arrest when he filed but that he wasn’t surprised.

The original complaint Jackson filed in March claimed that Gov. Hogan unconstitutionally deprived him of property rights by sticking to the sidelines when Caldwell seized power last year.

Jackson, a Prince George’s native, noted that he had served on the county liquor board just shy of 19 years when he recognized that Caldwell was gunning for his job.

“Maryland law required that the governor remove plaintiff Jackson for cause if Mr. Caldwell was to be appointed chairman,” the complaint states.

To prevent this development, Jackson said he presented “a detailed legal analysis to make defendant Gov. Hogan aware that plaintiff Jackson was entitled to serve as chairman of the PGBOLC for the 3-year term ending May 31, 2017.”

Hogan did not reply to two letters from Jackson, however, but the former chair says he received a three-sentence notice five days after his ouster from the governor’s secretary of appointments, thanking Jackson for his service.

Jackson specified in an interview that he does not seek reinstatement to the board, but hopes to encourage governmental transparency.

“I have spent hundreds of hours on this lawsuit because I want people to understand you have to do what is right,” he said. “You don’t use your job for personal gain if you’re a public official. You do what’s best for the public.”

Seeking an injunction and punitive damages, Jackson said the stress of the ordeal left him with nightmares and joint pain. He stressed in an interview, however, that he is “not suing because of the money.”

“Hopefully organizations like yours will look at the case, and look at the facts,” Jackson said. “The facts aren’t greatly in dispute. If you look at the facts and your stomach doesn’t turn, then I think there’s something wrong with your stomach.”

After a federal judge Greenbelt dismissed his case, Jackson filed his appeal on Dec. 9 with the Richmond, Va.-based Fourth Circuit.

An alumnus of Duke Law School, Jackson is pursuing court relief pro se.

“I fought as hard as I could, as long as I could,” Jackson said of his District Court loss. “But when you step on the wrong toes, things like this happen.”

A representative from the governor’s office has not returned a phone call or email seeking comment.

The governor is not able to forcibly remove a chairman from the commission, but Caldwell resigned from the board after his arrest on Dec. 13.

Caldwell’s legal troubles come a month after another Prince George’s official, county council member Mel Franklin, was charged with a DUI. A Democrat from Upper Marlboro, Franklin reportedly rear-ended a car stopped at a traffic light.