Ethics panel bars Evans from lobbying

Federal fraud conviction spurs step under new law

Vigorous appeal planned

Commission ignores attorney general's advice

October 09, 2002|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The State Ethics Commission, asserting its powers under Maryland's new lobbying law, has barred one-time Annapolis powerhouse Gerard E. Evans from representing clients before the General Assembly.

Rejecting a cautionary opinion from the state attorney general's office, the commission decided it has the power to revoke Evans' registration -- in effect his license to lobby -- as a result of his July 2000 conviction on federal fraud charges.

"We conclude that revocation of [Evans'] registration is in the public interest and necessary to protect the integrity of the government process," the commission said in an order released yesterday by Evans' attorney.

Evans, 46, thus becomes the first lobbyist to feel the sting of the landmark ethics law passed by the Assembly last year -- largely in response to his own ethical troubles.

The decision is unlikely to bar him from lobbying during next year's legislative session, however, because the law gives a lobbyist an automatic stay of punishment until court appeals are exhausted.

Daniel M. Clements, Evans' lawyer, said he will appeal to the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court -- and all the way to the Court of Appeals if necessary.

"The Ethics Commission has totally ignored the law, the legislative history and the attorney general, and they have done so to produce a result they can throw out to the public and try and claim they're doing their job," Clements said.

Retroactive?

The legal contest over the Evans sanction will likely turn on the question of whether the commission is attempting to apply the law retroactively in violation of the Maryland and U.S. constitutions.

The commission contends that a licensing statute can allow regulators to consider conduct that occurred before legislation was passed. The panel is taking the position that the revocation is a "forward-looking" action to preserve the integrity of the government process.

Clements rejected the commission's position that it was not acting retroactively. "They can call it something other than that, but it is sophistry," he said.

He noted a June 5 attorney general's opinion that the law would not allow suspensions or revocations for offenses committed before it took effect last year. The opinion was issued after Evans, who was released from federal custody in May, attempted to register to lobby.

If the courts uphold the sanction, Evans' punishment would be permanent unless the commission were to decide to reconsider the case at some future date.

The commission's order says Evans cannot ask for reinstatement for two years after the sanction becomes effective. The order bars him from lobbying state agencies as well as the legislature.

Evans' downfall

Evans, who earned more than $1 million in 1998, was one of the most prominent lobbyists in Annapolis when he was indicted in December 1999 on charges that he bilked his clients by concocting a phony threat of harmful legislation.

He was convicted in a jury trial and sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison, fined $50,000 and ordered to repay $139,000 to three paint company clients he cheated.

Evans' actions became the latest in a series of State House scandals that prompted a federal judge to excoriate what he called a "culture of corruption" at the lobbyist's sentencing.

In 1994, Bruce C. Bereano -- then the top lobbyist in Annapolis -- was convicted on federal mail fraud charges. He returned to the capital to lobby even before completing a term in a halfway house. That, combined with the Evans case, put pressure on legislators to rein in a lobbying corps that had become a virtual fourth branch of government.

Stung by the adverse publicity about the legislature, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller pushed for legislation creating a commission to examine the relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists.

The commission, headed by former House Majority Leader Donald Robertson, urged legislators to restrict lobbyists' fund raising and put teeth in existing laws.

Last year, the General Assembly passed sweeping legislation tightening controls on lobbyists and giving the ethics commission the power to enforce them with sanctions -- including fines, suspensions and in the most severe cases revocation.

Taylor declined last night to comment on the Evans case, but said, "We have the strongest body of ethics laws and sanctions anywhere in the country. ... When we passed the law with sanctions, we meant for it to be used."

Miller could not be reached for comment.

Bereano investigation

The commission's hard line in its first case under the new law could bode ill for Bereano. His recent lobbying activities are the subject of a commission investigation.

Bereano could not be reached for comment last night.

James Browning, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, welcomed the decision to bar Evans.

"It would have cast a pall over the Assembly if he'd been allowed to continue practicing, and set a pretty bad example for everyone else," Browning said.

Clements said Evans would not comment personally on the decision.

Sun staff writer Sarah Koenig contributed to this article.

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