By andrei Blakely
ANNAPOLIS – A Howard County elections official was cleared by the State Court of Appeals Wednesday of nepotism charges brought by the State Ethics Commission.
The decision comes a year after the Prince George’s County Circuit Court overturned an ethics commission’s reprimand of Robert J. Antonetti for providing jobs to immediate family members between 1988 and 1994. The commission’s initial complaint was filed in 1995 against Antonetti, then administrator for the Prince George’s County election board.
“I am elated, finally,” Antonetti said. “I feel vindicated of any wrongdoing. I never felt guilty of anything at the trial. I think the Ethics Commission was trying to make an example out of me.”
Randolph Sergent, ethics commission attorney didn’t disagree. The point of enforcing laws, he said, is to stop statewide improper practices and that effort has to start somewhere.
Antonetti resigned his Prince George’s position after nearly 30 years in late July to become the head of elections in Howard County.
It’s common practice at elections boards statewide to hire family members, Antonetti and his attorney said.
“Everyone recommended family members,” said William Brennan, Antonetti’s attorney. “The board was desperate to find people to fill positions. They had to quadruple their staff. He did not violate laws. We are very pleased with the opinion.”
Antonetti has received attention since his ethics trouble. He was criticized during the 1998 elections for misspelling candidate’s names and omitting candidates from ballots.
The State Ethics Commission in 1997 reprimanded Antonetti for providing his wife and four children with temporary election board jobs worth $14,000, according to the opinion.
Three judges in the Court of Special Appeals upheld the Circuit Court’s judgment without objection.
Judge James P. Salmon wrote in his opinion that, “There was no evidence presented to the commission, nor any fact from which an inference could legitimately be drawn, that Antonetti family members would not have been hired if they had applied for a job with the board and Antonetti had refused to make a recommendation. Thus, the commission was clearly erroneous when it found that Antonetti’s actions affected the board’s hiring decisions.”
The Ethics Commission was attempting to enforce a broad law that can be perceived with a narrower view, Sergent said.
“We are obviously disappointed,” he said, adding that the ethics commission didn’t have as much information as the appeals court to make its case.
The commission has not decided whether it will appeal to the state’s highest court.
– 30 – CNS-9-13-00