WASHINGTON — In a case that has grabbed national attention, a federal judge in Maryland ruled Tuesday that Prince George's County violated the contract clause of the Constitution by furloughing about 5,900 union employees, in part to preserve its triple-A credit rating for 2008 government obligation bonds instead of tapping reserve funds.

Judge Alexander Williams Jr., of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Southern Division, ruled that the county "exceeded its discretion and chose to substantially impair its contractual obligations to address an arguably foreseeable budget shortfall when, in light of surrounding circumstances, other more moderate alternatives would have served its purposes equally well."

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