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December 9, 2011

Benoit challenges legal opinion on Jones' seat

Anne Arundel County Councilman Jamie Benoit is challenging a legal opinion issued by the county attorney on the political future of fellow Councilman Daryl D. Jones, who is headed to federal prison next month.

In a five-page memo to the county’s Office of Law, Benoit, a Democrat, questioned County Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson’s Dec. 1 legal opinion. Hodgson stated that the council can replace Jones when he begins serving a five-month federal prison sentence on Jan. 23, on a single count of failing to file a tax return, because he will be living outside of his councilmanic district during his prison stint.

The county charter does not require a council member convicted of a crime or sentenced to prison. But Hodgson said once Jones, a second-term Democrat from Severn, is incarcerated, the council can declare his seat vacated by passing a resolution, then begin the process of choosing a successor. The council has 30 days from the date of the vacancy to choose a replacement, who must live in the district and be of the same party.

“By my read, if Mr. Jones does not resign and intends to live in the councilmanic district upon his return in a few months, his seat has not been vacated when he reports to prison,” Benoit wrote. The Crownsville Democrat and attorney asked the county law office to provide a more substantive legal opinion. Benoit has said he has no opinion on whether Jones should resign.


“It is weak and frankly, lacks the substantive legal analysis each of us deserve before making such an important decision,” Benoit wrote in a five-page letter he emailed to the law office Thursday night. “At a time when we deserved the very best advice the Office of Law can offer, we didn’t get it.”

Benoit added, “I do not believe the opinion has given even an elementary legal analysis and cannot be considered sound legal advice. Rather it appears the opinion is infected with political whim which is not what I expect nor what we deserve from our lawyers.”

Reached for comment on Benoit’s letter, Hodgson, who acts as the attorney for both the council and County Executive John R. Leopold, released a strongly-worded statement saying he sought to make all legal options known to his clients and questioned Benoit’s motives.

“Sometimes politicians are unhappy to be told they have difficult decisions to make and I believe that’s the root of Mr. Benoit’s displeasure and attempted legal rebuttal,’ said Hodgson. “It appears to me that he’s less dismayed by my reasoning than by my conclusion, and making such aggressive objections creates an impression that he even may be acting as Mr. Jones's surrogate.”

“Maybe it’s true that Mr. Benoit has no opinion on whether his colleague should resign from the council,” he added, “But depending on what the council decides to do with my advice, he may need to start thinking about it.”

Jones, who is also an attorney, did not respond to a request for comment. He has said previously he is undecided about whether he will resign or hold onto his seat while he serves his sentence.

Posted by Nicole Fuller at 11:51 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Anne Arundel County
        

Comments

Ok so Jones is convicted of a federal crime and can still be a councilman there all a bunch of crooks if i cheat the system not only go to jail but my boss is not gonna hold my job!

Elected officials not yet charged or convicted of crimes supporting and defending elected officials who HAVE been charged and convicted of crimes.

What a wonderful slate of politicians we have here in Maryland!

The black people in AA county deserve to have a voice on the county council. Its unfair to take away that voice just because someone made a paperwork mistake. If Daryl Jones was white, I doubt any of this nonsense about lost tax returns would have ever happened.

Not sure what Benoit's angle is here, but I'm guessing he stands to benefit in some way if the seat is not vacated. Either you think Jones should resign the position or you don't. Saying you have no opinion is chicken sh..! Typical bs from another of the Maryland liberals!

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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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