The response by Baltimore authorities to claims that Bernice Taylor, a former Deputy Comptroller sneaked into her previous office, collected and shredded public records sounds incredible in the ears of the public.
Taylor who was licensed to practice law in Maryland since 1982 worked for 24 years as a clerk for the City’s Board of Estimates.
If the claims about destroying public documents are proven, then she risks being jailed for a prison term not less than 20 years. She will also be barred from practicing law in Maryland or any other part of the country.
The courts take exceptional interest when lawyers are involved in the destruction of records, particularly if the motive is to obstruct civil justice.
Section 8-606(b) of Maryland’s code of ethics considers it a criminal offense for any person to destroy public records, unless with express authority. Anyone found culpable is punishable by a prison term not more than three years and a fine of $1,0000 or both.
Under the law, a public record is a paper, book or record preserved manually or digitally, created, obtained, or utilized by the state or political faction of the state, including the city.
It is not clear whether Taylor, who is now a private citizen received any authority to destroy the public record documents.
Joan Pratt, the current city comptroller said that she wasn’t aware of the shredding of documents, until she learned it from Dan Moore, the acting City Solicitor.
Immediately after Taylor left her former office, officers from the inspector general’s office found one bag full of the shredded documents inside the office.
As per the state law, it doesn’t matter what the motive of shredding the documents was. But if her motives are revealed, then things can get worse for her. There are already speculations as to what drove her to destroy the said documents.
The destruction of documents comes at a time when Taylor is being investigated for violating the Fair Labor Act, during her tenure. The investigations are being conducted by the Wage and Hour Division.
Sources reveal that Taylor destroyed the documents after Pratt Denice was informed that she was due to be interviewed by the investigation team regarding unpaid overtime allowances. It is alleged that Taylor and Lewis had a meeting a day before the shredding took place.
The act which was enacted into law in 2002 declared it a federal crime for anyone to destroy any document that can be used as evidence in a civil lawsuit. There are several officials in the state who have already faced prosecution for a similar crime.
Path to prosecution
If indeed the allegations are true, then Taylor must face the law and be prosecuted for her crime. It will be upon U.S attorney for Maryland, Robert K. Hur, to gather enough evidence and prove the allegations, that have been leveled against Taylor.
The case can also be prosecuted by Marilyn Cosby, if the former is not interested in taking up the case. For now, it will be a wait-and-see moment, for the people of Maryland.