Lobbyist fighting to keep his license

Federal fraud conviction preceded law that would ban Evans, lawyer says

March 25, 2003|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

The State Ethics Commission can't use Annapolis lobbyist Gerard E. Evans' conviction on federal fraud charges in July 2000 to revoke his license to practice his trade, his lawyer told an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court yesterday.

Attorney Daniel M. Clements argued that state regulators are improperly trying to pull Evans' lobbying license by retroactively applying provisions of the state's ethics law that became effective Nov. 1, 2001.

The provisions, which were part of a package of ethics reforms prompted by Evans' conviction, allow the ethics commission to revoke the license of a lobbyist who has been convicted of a crime.

The commission revoked Evans' registration as a lobbyist last fall, but the punishment was automatically stayed under state law until legal appeals are exhausted. Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth gave no indication yesterday of when he might rule, but attorneys for both sides said they expect whatever decision he makes to be appealed.

Noting that Evans was convicted before the ethics law reforms took effect, Clements argued that those provisions can not be made to apply to Evans. "Nowhere in the legislative history does it say it's going to be made retroactive," Clements said.

But Stephen H. Sachs, a lawyer representing the ethics commission, told Silkworth that Clements was misreading the statute. He said legislators clearly intended for the law to apply to Evans.

"It stretches credulity to [argue] that legislators did not intend for this legislation to apply to Mr. Evans' conduct," said Sachs, who served as U.S. attorney for Maryland from 1967 to 1970 and as state attorney general from 1979 to 1987.

Sachs was hired as outside counsel because Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.'s office was unable to handle the Evans case. Curran's office had previously advised the ethics commission that it shared Clements' opinion that the ethics reforms could not be applied retroactively to Evans.

Sachs noted that the ethics law changes were a direct response to a lobbying scandal that led to Evans' conviction and were intended to help "restore public confidence" in the legislative process. He said "significant deference" should be afforded the ethics commission in how to interpret the law.

"He has no vested right to be a lobbyist," Sachs said.

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 three lead paint company clients by concocting a phony threat of harmful legislation.

He was convicted in a jury trial, served 18 months in federal prison and resumed lobbying after his release.

If Evans had served his full 30-month term, he probably wouldn't be fighting to keep his license, because the new ethics law reforms carry a two-year statute of limitations.

In legal briefs, Sachs said that if Evans had waited until two years from his sentencing date, when his conviction became official, he could have registered as a lobbyist without possible sanctions from the ethics panel.

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