Lawsuit dismissal upheld


The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has upheld a decision by the Carroll County commissioners to dismiss three former members of the county ethics board, throwing out an $80 million wrongful termination suit against the county.

The lawsuit was filed after the commissioners demanded the resignations of all three ethics panel members in a public session in December 2002. Reasons given were incompetence, bias and misuse of office.

Two former ethics panel members, James F. W. Talley and Suzanne Primoff, filed the lawsuit a year later, claiming the termination slandered and inflicted emotional distress on them. The third member of the panel, John Harner, had since died.

Talley and Primoff said the commissioners wrongfully fired them as part of a conspiracy to suppress their investigation of County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge's dealings with a local contractor. The state attorney general's office has since cleared Gouge of any wrongdoing in that issue.

In September 2004, Carroll County Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway dismissed the lawsuit. He found that the commissioners were well within their authority when they demanded the resignations. The case then went to the Court of Special Appeals, which issued its ruling Monday.

"We have two courts saying we were correct," Gouge said. "This suit has been lingering over our heads for three years, and these people were suing us for reorganizing the ethics committee."

Talley and Primoff, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, have 30 days to appeal the decision.

"I felt confident from the get-go that we would succeed," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "I know what malice and libel are, and I know we are not guilty of either. We were just taking care of business in public. We should be able to do so without fear of reprisal."

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