Zoning official wants judge to reconsider ethics ruling County Commissioners used panel's finding as reason to fire Lennon

November 13, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Planning and Zoning Commission member Robert H. Lennon wants a circuit court judge to re-consider his ruling that county ethics commission findings cannot be appealed.

County Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates used an ethics commission finding July 15 as their reason for firing the Westminster attorney as a member of the planning panel.

The ethics commission said Lennon's legal work for land owners was a conflict of interest in violation of the county ethics law.

Although Lennon -- who has been a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission since 1994 -- disputed that contention, he ++ agreed not to represent clients in similar land-use for the remainder of his five-year term.

But when the commissioners used the ethics finding to fire him, Lennon appealed, asking for reinstatement to the planning commission.

Judge Eugene M. Lerner restored Lennon to the planning commission Aug. 22 pending a final ruling that is expected by Nov. 21.

Under state law, there are three grounds on which a planning commission member can be dismissed: inefficiency, neglect of duty or malfeasance in office.

"Malfeasance is defined as the doing of an act which a person ought not to do, evil conduct, an illegal deed," Lerner said from the bench Aug 22. "I don't think [Lennon's] actions are illegal in any manner."

But on Oct. 21, Lerner ruled that ethics commission findings are merely advisory and cannot be appealed.

In a Nov. 4 motion, Lennon, through his attorney Richard C. Murray, asked the judge to reconsider that ruling.

If the ruling stands, others who the ethics commission says have violated the county ethics law "may have no recourse whatsoever to have the 'charges' against them reviewed," Lennon said in his appeal.

The ethics finding and his firing are intertwined, Lennon said.

Judge Lerner seemed to be saying the same thing Aug. 22, when he said he didn't think the ethics findings against Lennon amounted to much and that he expected Lennon's reinstatement to the planning commission to become permanent.

Lennon wants to argue the "invalidity and erroneous nature" of the ethics finding now so that it could become part of the court record reviewed later by an appellate court.

The commissioners have said that if Lerner rules in Lennon's favor, restoring him to the planning commission permanently, they will appeal.

Pub Date: 11/12/96

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