POTOMAC, Md. (AP) — Maryland’s governor expressed frustration with the status of the purple line light-rail project and made claims this week that a judge weighing its future has a conflict of interest.
Media outlets report those claims are being questioned by neighbors and civic leaders, but a spokeswoman said Gov. Larry Hogan stands by his comments.
Hogan said Wednesday that U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, “who happens to live at the country club” the line is slated to run through is “making the decision to hold it up.”
Leon is reconsidering an order suspending federal environmental approval the state needs to get federal construction grants for the 16.2-mile line that would connect Bethesda and College Park. His Chevy Chase home is three miles from Columbia Country Club, which fought the project that would bisect its golf course, but reached an agreement with the state in 2013.
Hogan, a Republican, also said Wednesday that he told U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao recently that the project needs $900 million in federal construction aid.
“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.
The group the governor said Christine Leon is active in appears to be the Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights, which includes the Leons’ neighborhood organization, which hasn’t taken a purple line position. Two umbrella group leaders told The Washington Post they couldn’t recall seeing Christine Leon at a meeting.
Leon declined to comment.
The governor is frustrated by Leon’s “inexplicable delay” in issuing his latest ruling and he stands by his comments, spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said Thursday.
“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.
Chasse cited news stories that included transit activists’ allegations that the location of the judge’s home and his wife’s involvement in their civic group posed potential conflicts. One WAMU-FM story states that Leon lives across the street from Martin Wiegand, a former Columbia Country Club vice president. Wiegand said Thursday he was “quite upset” to be linked to any allegations of judicial bias and that he rarely runs into the Leons.
“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.”
The office of Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, represents the state in the lawsuit, but hasn’t filed motions asking Leon to recuse himself. The office referred questions to the governor.
When asked why the state hadn’t requested that the judge recuse himself, Chasse said the attorney general and the Justice Department have asked Leon to rule by April 28.
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