Documents filed Friday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court show that the ethics probe of a Westminster attorney who was ousted from Carroll's planning commission, then reinstated by a judge, began two months before the County Commissioners officially asked for one.
Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates expelled Robert H. Lennon from the county Planning and Zoning Commission July 15 after receiving a Carroll County Ethics Commission report that said he had violated the county ethics law.
Lennon says the move was political because he frequently clashed with the slow-growth philosophy of Brown and Yates. He challenged his dismissal in Anne Arundel Circuit Court and was restored to the commission Aug. 22 pending a final ruling. The case, which is being tried in Anne Arundel County, will resume Oct. 21.
On March 20, Yates and Brown asked the three-member ethics panel to look into complaints from three South Carroll residents about Lennon's conduct on the planning commission.
But a confidential letter contained in the court file says county attorney George A. Lahey asked Towson attorney James R. Chason on Jan. 22 to review information Lahey provided about Lennon.
Lahey gave Chason a list of transactions in 1994 in which Lennon's law firm represented property owners allowed to create small lots on agricultural land without having to go through the subdivision process -- a procedure known as off-conveyances. Lahey also sent Chason portions of the county ethics law relating to conflicts of interest.
Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who appointed Lennon to the planning panel and loudly protested his ouster, said he was not told until recently that the county had hired Chason to guide the ethics commission thorough its investigation.
"That happened without my knowledge," Dell said. "The first I heard of anything was in March when we got the letters [from the South Carroll residents]. And I thought they were so frivolous that I didn't pay any attention to them."
Lahey said Friday that the county has never contended that the ethics case against Lennon is based on the letters sent to the ethics commission in a March 20 memorandum from Robert A. "Max" Bair, the commissioners' chief of staff.
The ethics commission gave the County Commissioners a three-page opinion in early July, saying Lennon's legal work on behalf of property owners entitled to off-conveyances violated the county ethics law and "gave rise to a reasonable likelihood of an impairment of impartiality" on his part.
The ethics panel called for Lennon to stop the practice, but did not recommend his expulsion.
Brown and Yates said any ethics violation was a breach of public trust serious enough to warrant dismissal and fired Lennon. Dell called Lennon's ouster "a witch hunt" designed to further the political ends of Brown and Yates.
The fact that he and Yates directed Bair to send a memorandum to the ethics commission two months after Lahey's letter to Chason "is a little beside the point," Brown said.
"I can see where it's a matter of curiosity, but it doesn't override the fact that the reason Mr. Lennon was removed was because the ethics commission said he violated the ethics law."
No matter what Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner decides, "there will be appeals," Brown said. "If [Lennon] loses, he'll appeal. If we lose, we'll appeal. If he [ultimately] prevails, I'm prepared to accept that."
Pub Date: 10/13/96