Court rules against elections official -- again

Judge says state paycheck may be used to pay fine

October 24, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

It is time for Robert J. Antonetti Sr. to pay up -- again.

State Administrative Law Judge Laurie I. Pritchard found Tuesday that the $1,170 the Howard County's elections board administrator owes may be withheld from his state paycheck by the Maryland Central Collection Unit. He has been assessed a $1,000 late fee plus 17 percent interest for tardy disclosure of records that he had hired his family for temporary Prince George's County elections board jobs from 1988 to 1994.

It is the latest move in a five-year legal saga in which Antonetti -- then-Prince George's County elections board administrator -- was fined $7,500 and ordered to pay the late fees in May 1997 by the State Ethics Commission.

Since that decision, the case has climbed up and down the state's judicial ladder, finally resulting in a Maryland Court of Appeals decision in September last year -- details of which were reaffirmed in Prince George's Circuit Court in December.

Although the Court of Appeals is the state's highest court, the appeals have continued over narrow technicalities, and the only bills Antonetti has paid are to his lawyer, William C. Brennan.

"It's the principle," not the money, was all Antonetti would say yesterday when he learned about Pritchard's ruling from a Sun reporter.

Howard officials, including County Executive James N. Robey, have complained publicly that Antonetti's refusal as a state employee to pay a state agency money that the state's highest court has said he owes is embarrassing to them, but the board administrator has not changed course.

This round may end like every other since 1997 -- with an appeal to a higher court.

Antonetti said yesterday that he will have to talk with his lawyer first, but he could appeal -- again.

Michael Scott Friedman, the assistant attorney general representing the state in the case, said, "We're pleased with the decision."

He is scheduled to argue the state's case on the $7,500 fine -- again -- Tuesday morning in Prince George's Circuit Court.

Although Pritchard's decision consumed 15 pages and a cover letter, it boiled down to that Antonetti owes the money to the state, which is his employer and thus has the right to collect it from his paycheck.

Brennan had argued that the Ethics Commission had no right to go to the collection unit for the money, that the collection unit had no authority to collect late fees and that too much time had passed since the fine was imposed. All were rejected.

Antonetti was found by the commission to have paid family members $14,000 for part-time work over six years, and had not disclosed their employment records. He insisted the practice is not unusual or inappropriate in Maryland and that he personally signed the pay stubs because he was the only board official authorized to do so.

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