ANNAPOLIS – Linda H. Lamone will have to wait until Monday to learn whether she remains Maryland elections chief while facing charges of incompetence.
Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth said he will announce his decision in the case at 10 a.m. Monday. He spent much of Friday hearing arguments from lawyers for the state Board of Elections, which is pressing the charges, and Lamone.
After the hearing, Lamone said she was grateful her case was heard, and that she looked forward to the judge’s decision.
Last week, the Maryland State Board of Elections met in a closed-door, marathon session before filing charges to remove Lamone for “incompetence, misconduct or other good cause.”
Gilles W. Burger, chairman of the board, has declined to discuss the charges.
However, The Washington Post reported Monday that the board charged that Lamone “ignored directives from the State Board of Elections, failed to respond adequately to local officials and recently told a job candidate that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) is ‘out to get (me)’.”
Lamone’s attorney, Timothy F. Maloney, said he’d have a statement next week about what he said was the state’s revelation of the sealed charges against her.
An administrative law judge is set to hear those charges Oct. 13-15. In the interim, the board put Lamone on paid administrative leave and named Robin Downs Colbert acting administrator.
But Lamone fought the board’s move just hours after it was announced and Silkworth issued a temporary restraining order, effectively restoring Lamone to her position.
Silkworth said then that the elections board could “not suspend Ms. Lamone, place her on administrative leave, or interfere with (her) access to her office and the staff of the State Board of Elections.”
The order will remain in effect until Monday, Maloney said.
The central question before the court was whether the board had the authority to remove Lamone and replace her with an acting administrator.
In his closing statement, Jay P. Holland, another attorney for Lamone, said there was no authority to fire or replace his client. No statute allows the creation of an “acting elections administrator,” and if Colbert took the position she would be “essentially an usurper of the office.”
Assistant Attorney General Steven Sullivan, arguing for the state, disagreed. He called to the stand Andrea Fulton, executive director for the Office of Personnel and Benefits in the Department of Budget and Management, who said that because Lamone’s position fell under the state personnel and management system she was answerable to state guidelines on administrative leave.
That means Lamone can be removed as elections chief because she is “under investigation for work-related conduct,” Fulton said.
The guideline is in place to get the employee out of the work site and remove any disruptions during the investigation, Sullivan said.
During a break in the hearing, Burger was asked how he thought the board would respond if the charges ultimately went nowhere and Lamone got her job back.
“We’ll work things out,” he said. “The interests of the state and the interests of the elections are most important.” – 30 – CNS-9-10-04