Outside counsel OK'd in case against lobbyist

Ethics panel wants to hire ex-Attorney General Sachs

January 30, 2003|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has approved $30,000 for the state ethics commission to hire former state Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs as its lawyer in a case against lobbyist Gerard E. Evans.

Evans served time in prison after his July 2000 conviction on federal fraud charges, and the commission wants to bar him from representing clients before the General Assembly.

Evans' attorney argues that the commission is trying to retroactively apply a new ethics law to improperly strip him of his license to practice as a lobbyist.

The attorney general's office, in a written opinion, supported that view - which prompted the commission to seek outside legal counsel to handle the case.

"The ethics commission requested that the governor approve outside counsel," said Jervis Finney, attorney for the governor's office. "The governor concurs ... and recommends that Steve Sachs be selected as that outside counsel."

Sachs could not be reached for comment at his office or home yesterday afternoon. He served as U.S. attorney for Maryland from 1967 to 1970 and as state attorney general from 1979 to 1987.

"The issue of ethics in government is an important issue to the governor and to the state," Finney said of the decision to provide $30,000 so that the commission can hire Sachs.

Evans' attorney, Daniel M. Clements, questioned the decision, and Finney's comments.

"If Mr. Finney and the governor want to capitalize on this as their ethics push, it's pretty pathetic," Clements said.

He said that the commission's legal arguments have been "utterly inconsistent," and noted that the attorney general's office shares Clements' view of the law.

"I suspect the state has better use of its $30,000 than to pay outside counsel to defend an agency that has made an illegal and inappropriate decision," Clements said.

"They are trying to hire a smart lawyer to defend them but even he won't succeed because he can't defend the law. They can hire five former attorney generals and it isn't going to change the law," Clements said.

Sachs' hiring is seen as an indication the ethics commission is committed to trying to bar Evans from lobbying.

"The ethics commission is serious about going forward with this matter," said Suzanne Fox, the ethics commission's executive director.

The commission acted to revoke Evans' registration as a lobbyist last fall, but the punishment was automatically stayed under state law until legal appeals are exhausted.

A hearing on the issue is scheduled for March 24 in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

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 served 18 months in federal prison. He resumed lobbying after his release.

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