Ethics panel clears council attorney

Pollock did not break law by testifying in court case as a paid expert, it says

February 13, 2003|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

The attorney for the Anne Arundel County Council did not break county ethics laws when he served as a paid expert witness in a court case pitting a community association against a developer, the county ethics commission ruled this week.

Robert M. Pollock, a former assistant county attorney who drafts bills for the council and serves as its parliamentarian, took a position contrary to the county's when he testified in March on behalf of the Heritage Harbour Community Association.

The association had alleged that U.S. Home Corp. cheated the residents out of open space in building their subdivision west of Annapolis. The case was recently dismissed.

County rules allow Pollock, who earns $92,038 a year in his county post, to work as a private attorney and to testify as a paid witness.

Questions arose over whether Pollock, 57, could have benefited from his title in serving as a paid witness. Concerns were also raised about whether he improperly testified in a private case in which the county had a stake or if he ran afoul of ethics rules by testifying in a case that he had worked on as a government lawyer.

In its report, the commission found that:

Pollock did not use his title for benefit but merely stated his credentials when necessary.

Though Pollock represented a group with an opposing position to the county's, the county did not have a stake in the civil lawsuit.

There was no conclusive evidence that Pollock exercised "substantial responsibility" in zoning decisions for the subdivision at issue while serving as assistant county attorney.

Council Chairmwoman Cathleen M. Vitale said the ethics report put to rest any concerns she had about Pollock's actions.

"I'm glad the decision came out the way it did so we don't have to deal with the `if,'" said Vitale, an attorney.

Pollock declined to comment yesterday. He would confirm only that the ethics commission had cleared him.

A source close to the investigation said yesterday that Pollock received between $3,000 and $4,000 for his testimony. He has returned that money, two sources said.

After learning in December of Pollock's testimony, County Council members asked the Ethics Commission for an opinion about his actions. Pollock also sought an opinion.

A copy of the opinion, which was issued Monday, was obtained yesterday by The Sun.

Pollock was a county attorney for 25 years before becoming the council's attorney in 2001.

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