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Complaint over plea deal dismissed

Issue last for board in its current form

POSTED: January 3, 2013 12:31 a.m.
 

The Forsyth County Board of Ethics dismissed its final complaint on Wednesday.

The five members agreed the panel did not have jurisdiction to hear a complaint lodged against Michael Mahoney, an assistant district attorney.

The decision was the last one for the appointed board of residents, which was replaced with an on-call pool of out-of-county attorneys shortly after this last complaint was filed.

County resident William Dunn submitted the complaint on Oct. 19. It addressed a plea deal reached for a case in Forsyth County Superior Court on Oct. 4.

In his ethics complaint, Dunn contends "political pressure" on the district attorney's office led to the plea with reduced charges.

The response, filed Nov. 15 by District Attorney Penny Penn, states that the county ethics board is "not the appropriate place" to hear the issue since Mahoney is a state constitutional officer rather than a county employee.

The ethics board agreed with that analysis, finding that it couldn’t hear a complaint for an employee not under the county’s jurisdiction.

George Weaver, the ethics board’s legal counsel, cited court rulings that placed district attorneys and their staff under the purview of the state.

He also noted the Georgia Supreme Court “has said only they have authority to discipline attorneys for their conduct in dealings of law.”

Board Chairman Bob Charles said that as a layperson, the association of Forsyth County in the title and e-mail addresses of the district attorney’s office would likely lead someone to believe Mahoney was a county employee.

“On the other hand, we certainly have to go by the actual legal definitions with regard to whether this person was under our purview,” Charles said.

After the board dismissed the complaint, Charles made a motion directing staff to draft a list of employee positions that would be reviewable by the board to prevent such an issue in the future.

According to Weaver, the appropriate jurisdiction for this grievance would likely be the state bar association, though Dunn did not state whether he plans to pursue that course of action.

In the case Dunn referenced, Charles McElroy Turner of Lumpkin County had been indicted on two counts of impersonating a police officer and two counts of false imprisonment.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of disorderly conduct and received 24 months of probation, community service and a $1,000 fine, in addition to other conditions.

Dunn, who attended the meeting Wednesday with his family, thanked the board for considering the final issue.

The new panel will assemble only if a complaint or request for an advisory opinion is filed, and the members will include three randomly selected attorneys from a list of nine to 15 that have been pre-qualified.

The compilation of that group is in progress, said Forsyth County Attorney Ken Jarrard.

The intent of the commissioner-initiated changes is to remove any potential or perceived conflicts by bringing in a disinterested group to hear the evidence in an ethics issue.

 

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