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The Nose

Re-Turnered?

Posted 4/27/2005

Samuel Thornton Daniels Jr., Baltimore’s 57-year-old chief liquor inspector, sued his employer on April 8, charging that two of the three members of the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners, and two of its top staff, are involved in a protection racket for licensees with political connections. Daniels, who has 18 years in as an inspector (six of them as chief), filed his complaint in Baltimore City Circuit Court after he’d been handed a month-long suspension without pay. The discipline was meted out for a myriad of reasons that, to the Nose, all seem to add up to him doing his job too well.

Daniels’ purposeful campaign to clamp down on illegal gambling at city bars, coupled with his cooperation with City Paper on a story about gambling raids (Mobtown Beat, “Game Sharks,” March 9) he spearheaded, prompted his suspension. Daniels responded to it by making public allegations that liquor board officials—commissioners Claudia Brown and John Green, executive secretary Nathan Irby Jr., and deputy executive secretary Jane Schroeder—collude to protect politically connected establishments on the Block, Baltimore’s downtown adult-entertainment district.

Daniels is now back at work, but he’s serving in a probationary capacity for six months, and he’s pressing ahead with his lawsuit.

The whole ordeal rings with the echo of an earlier Liquor Board case from 1996, when then-inspector Marion Turner sued the board after she was fired from her patronage position, sponsored by then-state Sen. Larry Young (D-44th District). Like Daniels, Turner alleged political corruption—attacking both Young and the patronage system, in which liquor inspectors worked at the pleasure of politicians. Turner’s complaint was ultimately dismissed, but her efforts were not futile, as both patronage and Young fell from grace quickly after she fought the system. The next year, the state legislature ended patronage for city liquor inspectors and placed them in the regular civil-service system. In 1998, Young became the first state senator to be expelled from the legislature in two centuries, after his colleagues sustained charges that he had profited from public office.

As the drama played itself out, the Nose coined a new verb to capture its essence (The Nose, March 18, 1998): “turner,” which we defined as “to prevail over powerful enemies in what seems to be a hopeless cause.”

Thanks to the end of patronage for liquor inspectors, Turner’s loss in the courts does not necessarily bode poorly for Daniels. Her case was tossed out because she didn’t have the protections offered members of the civil service—protections that Daniels enjoys. Given his allegations, though, the Nose is not sure the reforms have changed much at the Liquor Board, where everyone but the inspectors remains beholden to the politicians who appoint them. Perhaps Daniels, unlike Turner, isn’t taking on a “hopeless cause,” but, like Turner’s, it’s a cause that holds the potential for further reform of an agency that seems forever in need of it.

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