Appeal decision on ouster due soon Planning commission member reinstated

December 19, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The County Commissioners have until Jan. 11 to decide whether to appeal a Westminster attorney's reinstatement to the county Planning and Zoning Commission -- a case that has cost at least $35,000.

An appeal could cost the county another $20,000 or more, local attorneys say.

The case centers on what a circuit judge said was the unlawful ouster of Robert H. Lennon from the commission.

County Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates fired Lennon from the planning panel July 15 after receiving an ethics commission report saying he had violated the county ethics law.

Judge Eugene M. Lerner ruled Dec. 10 that Lennon had not violated the ethics law and ordered Lennon reinstated.

The bulk of the expense so far -- $29,200 -- has been in legal fees paid to Towson attorney James R. Chason. The fees will be covered by insurance, said county spokeswoman Cindy Parr.

The county legal office also spent 260 hours helping prepare the case at an estimated cost of $20 an hour, Parr said.

County attorney George A. Lahey said yesterday that no decision has been made on whether the County Commissioners or the ethics commission would appeal the case and that he had no idea what it would cost to pursue an appeal.

Four Carroll attorneys and a Howard County attorney agreed yesterday to provide their best estimates as to what an appeal might cost on condition that they not be identified.

The cost of filing an appeal in Maryland is only $110. But that is just the beginning.

Next comes the paperwork -- getting transcripts and having briefs and replies to briefs printed -- which together could cost about $2,000.

An appeal of the Lennon decision would be complicated, the attorneys agreed, because Lerner ruled in Lennon's favor in his request to be reinstated to the planning commission and in his appeal of the ethics commission finding.

Thus, the county would have to file two appeals -- although the appeals likely would be consolidated, the attorneys said.

The real cost, they said, would be in attorney fees.

Although only one court appearance would be necessary, it could come at the end of an eight-hour day and cost $1,000 or more.

It is difficult to estimate the number of hours to be spent preparing the appeal, the attorneys said, because once filed, an appeal "takes on a life of its own."

Most lawyers say as much time can go into preparing appeal briefs as goes into defending the case from the beginning.

Legal fees could run from a minimum of $10,000 by one estimate to $40,000 by another -- "if you're really doing it right."

Doing it right is essential, an attorney said, "because the odds of winning an appeal are not good. Most of the time, the lower court is affirmed."

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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