Judge delays ruling in planning panel case Board member appealed commissioners' July 15 decision to remove him

November 28, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel Circuit judge delayed a final ruling yesterday on whether to restore a Westminster attorney to the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission.

However, Judge Eugene M. Lerner agreed to reconsider the attorney's case against the county ethics commission.

Lerner had planned to make a final ruling in the case of Robert H. Lennon, who was removed from the planning commission July 15 by the Carroll County Commissioners.

The commissioners, on a 2-1 vote, based their decision on a Carroll County Ethics Commission finding.

After hearing arguments yesterday in Annapolis, Lerner -- who reinstated Lennon to the planning commission Aug. 22 pending a final ruling in the case -- said he would issue a written opinion as soon as possible.

The judge reversed his Oct. 21 decision to dismiss Lennon's appeal of the ethics commission's findings.

"I think what I'm going to do is change what I did previously," said Lerner, who originally had ruled that Lennon could not pursue his ethics commission appeal because the panel's findings were advisory.

Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard Yates voted to expel Lennon from the planning board after an ethics commission finding that the attorney's representation of clients in land-use matters amounted to a conflict of interest.

Lennon's law firm represented property owners allowed to create small lots on agricultural land without going through the subdivision process -- a procedure known as off-conveyance.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who appointed Lennon to the planning panel in November 1993, said Lennon's ouster was politically motivated.

Richard C. Murray, Lennon's attorney, argued yesterday that his client's legal work for property owners does not constitute malfeasance in office, which could be grounds for removal from the planning commission. He said the commission does not regulate off-conveyance matters unless they interfere with a public project.

"Our point is that the off-conveyance procedures are exempt from the subdivision process," Murray said.

County Attorney George Lahey and Murray disagreed over the definition of malfeasance as it relates to Lennon's case.

"Where is the evil conduct? Where is the corruption in this case?" Murray asked.

"We have never contended that what Mr. Lennon did was criminal," Lahey said. "We said it was a conflict of interest doing something you should not do in your official capacity."

Lahey said the County Commissioners have the authority to determine if Lennon's actions were serious enough to warrant his removal from the commission. The ethics panel called for Lennon to stop handling off-conveyance matters, which he agreed to do, but did not recommend his expulsion. "Once the pTC ethics violation was found, then the Commissioners of Carroll County may take the disciplinary action they find appropriate," Lahey said.

Pub Date: 11/28/96

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