In latest clash, Harford County state’s attorney is at odds with county executive over email access

Harford County Executive Robert Cassilly (R) chats with reporters Dec. 5, 2022, after a swearing-in ceremony at Harford Community College. Photo by William J. Ford.

A dust-up over emails could land Harford County Executive Robert Cassilly (R) in court — to answer a potential lawsuit from county State’s Attorney Alison Healey (R).

Healey, in a Monday news conference outside the Circuit Court House complex in Bel Air, said she planned to seek a judge’s order requiring Cassilly’s administration to provide access to emails of a key employee who is on emergency family leave. Healey added that she also plans to ask for “millions of dollars” to be used to move her office’s email system off of the Harford County system.

“I quite frankly don’t want to be involved in the political infighting,” said Healey. “I just want to do my job. These actions directly correlate to my ability to run my office and do my job. He’s flat out denying me access to data that belongs to this office.”

Healey, in an interview, said she made the request last week after an unnamed top employee took emergency leave.

Healey said Cassilly denied her request and linked it to an ongoing criminal investigation involving his own access to emails belonging to County Councilman Aaron Penman (R) and others.

“The person that I am seeking emails for is an employee of mine who works here,” said Healey. “This is for the necessary function of our office, to run our office.”

“These emails include invoices, contracts, personnel actions, and state and federal grant correspondence that simply cannot be ignored for any period of time, let alone the extended period of time we are facing at this time,” said Healey. The county executive and County Attorney Jefferson Blomquist are “refusing to provide access to this important information to which I am entitled, in retaliation for my referral of a recent investigation into their conduct,” she continued.

Not being able to access the emails “prohibits me, prohibits us from being able to do everyday functions if we don’t get them. His requests, however, were email communications of other elected officials and private citizens, people who are not employed by him,” she said.

Healey was briefly involved earlier this year in what was then an evolving review of Cassilly’s access to emails from Penman, Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler (R) and others.

She ultimately turned the matter over to the Office of the State Prosecutor out of concern about potential conflicts of interest and a desire to remain above accusations of political gamesmanship.

“This has nothing to do with politics,” said Healey.

Healey said she plans to ask a Harford County Circuit Court judge to require Cassilly’s administration to provide the emails her office is seeking. That could come as soon as this week, she said.

Healey also plans to ask the Harford County Council for funds to pay for an email server and technical staff. That request will take longer, she said.

A spokesperson for Cassilly did not respond to a request for comment.

Cassilly himself watched Healey’s press conference outside the historic Bel Air courthouse and spoke to reporters after.

In those comments, Cassilly accused both Healey and Penman and others of politically attacking him.

“This is a hit job,” Cassilly said. “And I think it’s unfortunate that we have a state’s attorney and a county council member, both misusing their offices to inflict political damage on the sitting county executive. It’s just regrettable to see that and that’s what this is.”

Additionally, he compared Healey’s request to access the email account of her aide to his review of emails that is now the subject of investigation. He also called Healey’s request during an ongoing investigation “entrapment.”

“There’s no retribution, no retaliation,” Cassilly said. “What’s absurd is that she turns to me and says, ‘Hey, what I just have asked you to be indicted for, I want you to do it because this would benefit me.’ …Are you kidding me? This is Keystone Cops. How absurd would that be? So, to me, this is like entrapment.”

He also told reporters that Healey should have the passwords and login credentials of her employees. His statement contradicts county policy regarding email accounts that were released to Maryland Matters last week as part of a request under the Maryland Public Information Act.

That county policy clearly states that county employees are to “keep passwords secure and do not share email accounts.” County policy outlined in those documents do not mention nor require employees to share passwords and other credentials with their supervisors. All county employees are required to sign a written acknowledgement of the county policy.

In his comments to reporters Monday, Cassilly appeared to link releasing emails to Healey with a declaration from her that his administration’s search of emails was not illegal.

“The magic bullet here is just come back and tell me this is not criminal,” Cassilly said. “That’s what you need to do. It’s easy. This is not criminal. It’s not criminal conduct. …Alison can acknowledge that real quick.”

Healey, in an interview, said her decision to turn over the investigation to the Office of the State Prosecutor did not include any determination of criminality nor a recommendation for criminal prosecution.

The incident is the latest in a series of conflicts between Cassilly, a first-year executive, and the County Council as well as other elected officials in the county.

Also on Monday, members of the council expressed outrage after they said Cassilly barred the county auditor from seeking information about county operations, in violation of the county’s charter.

Penman, in an interview, said the financial system Cassilly blocked the auditor from accessing was the same one used when he accused Cassilly of transferring $7 million in his budget without council approval. That accusation in May triggered Cassilly’s review of the emails of Penman and others.

Penman, in an interview Monday, said issues with the county auditor had been quickly resolved.

Earlier this year, Cassilly initially refused to recognize Democratic Councilman Jacob Bennett’s election to the council, citing a County Charter provision he said barred Bennett from serving while retaining his job as a Harford County middle school science teacher. The Supreme Court of Maryland in March ruled Bennett could hold both his day job and a seat on the council.

Penman, in an interview Monday, reiterated his call for Cassilly to take a leave of absence pending the completion of the review by the state prosecutor.

“I know I’m the only one calling for it,” said Penman “I’m scared about what lengths he will go to. He’s obviously frustrated. He’s under criminal investigation; we know that his administration is, at least to some degree. Now, he’s trying to leverage the state’s attorney’s office to essentially say he didn’t commit a crime. And therefore, I believe, I think he needs to take a step back.”

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