The Office of Law serves as the Executive Director of the Baltimore County Ethics Commission, which administers the public ethics laws that promote the public’s trust in government and ensures the impartiality of public employees in the exercise of their duties and responsibilities.
About the Complaint Process
The following is an outline of the procedures for the investigation, filing and disposition of an ethics violation complaint.
The Executive Director conducts a preliminary investigation.
The Executive Director will submit a preliminary report to to the Ethics Commission to determine:
- Whether there are credible facts, which if proven, would constitute an ethics violation
- Who the respondents may be in any further proceedings
- Whether the potential respondents are subject to the provisions of the County ethics laws
If the Commission determines that the allegations and evidence presented in the preliminary report do not support a possible finding of an ethics violation, are frivolous or lack jurisdiction, it shall close the investigation and inform the complainant of its decision.
If the Commission determines that the allegations and evidence presented in the preliminary report may constitute an ethics violation, or if the complaint is not dismissed by the Commission within 45 days of being filed, the Commission shall send to the respondents by certified mail:
- A written complaint stating the alleged violations of the ethics law
- A summary of the facts giving rise to the complaint
- A copy of the procedures for the investigation, filing and disposition of complaints
- A copy of the hearing procedures
If a respondent is a County employee, the Commission may direct the Executive Director to send the complaint by County interoffice mail, hand delivery or email. The Executive Director shall confirm that the respondent received the complaint. The complaint may be signed by the complainant, the Executive Director, a member of the Ethics Commission, or by any other person at the discretion of the Commission.
The respondent may file an answer to the complaint, setting forth any information/documents that the respondent believes may be relevant to the allegations in the complaint. The answer shall be filed within 20 days after the respondent receives the complaint, unless an extension is granted by the Commission.
The answer may also indicate whether the respondent has cured or intends to cure the alleged violations. If the respondent has cured or indicates an intent to cure the alleged violations, at the direction of the Commission, the Executive Director may execute a cure agreement with the respondents and the Commission may dismiss the complaint in accordance with step 7.
The answer, and any accompanying documents, along with any additional evidence obtained by the Executive Director, shall be included in a final report presented by the Executive Director to the Commission. The final report shall be submitted to the Commission within 20 days after an answer is filed by the respondent, or if no answer is filed, within 40 days after the complaint is received by the respondent, unless an extension is granted by the Commission. The presentation shall be conducted in closed session in the presence of the ethics Commission and staff only.
The Executive Director shall notify the complainant, if any, and the respondent, of the date on which the final report shall be presented to the Commission. The notification may include a proposed cure for the alleged violations.
The respondent shall have 15 days after receiving the notification required in step 6, to take such actions as may be required to cure the alleged violations. If the respondent takes the actions necessary to effectuate the cure, and if the ethics Commission determines that dismissal is not contrary to the purposes of the Public Ethics Law, it will dismiss the complaint. The cure agreement and the order dismissing the complaint shall be a public record.
After reviewing the final investigative report:
- If the Commission concludes that there is insufficient evidence to support a possible finding of an ethics violation, it shall dismiss the complaint and send the order of dismissal to the complainant if there is one, and to the respondent. The order of dismissal may be accompanied by an opinion.
- If the Commission determines that there is sufficient evidence to proceed to a hearing on the complaint, it shall schedule a hearing on the complaint and send a notice of hearing to the respondent, by certified mail. If a respondent is a County employee, the Commission may direct the Executive Director to send the notice by county interoffice mail, hand-delivery or email. The Executive Director shall confirm that the respondent received the notice. The notice of hearing shall state the date and time of the hearing and shall inform the respondent of the rights afforded to the respondent under the ethics law.
At least 10 working days before the hearing, the respondent and the Executive Director shall provide to the Commission and to each other, an estimate of the length of time needed to present that party’s case, a proposed list of witnesses and eight copies of each document or other exhibit that will be offered as evidence at the hearing.
At any time after the receipt of the complaint by the respondent, the respondent may enter into a consent order with the Commission. A proposed consent agreement shall be submitted jointly by the respondent and the Executive Director for consideration by the Commission and shall state the sections of the ethics law violated, the action that the respondent has taken or will take to correct the violation, and the sanctions, if any, imposed upon the respondent. The proposed consent agreement shall be subject to the approval of the Commission. An approved consent order, incorporating the consent agreement, shall be a public record.
File a Complaint
The following is an outline of the hearing procedures for an ethics complaint.
The Commission’s chairperson shall convene the hearing and shall briefly state the charges against the respondent.
Three members of the Commission shall constitute a quorum for the purpose of conducting a hearing and reaching a conclusion on the complaint.
The Commission’s chairperson shall:
- Conduct a fair and impartial hearing.
- Take action to avoid unnecessary delay in the disposition of hearings.
- Maintain order.
- Continue the hearing from day to day as shall be necessary.
- Grant postponements of the hearing or any other matter, for good cause, at the discretion of the chairperson.
- Advise each witness that the hearing and all matters related to the complaint are confidential and that the witness may not disclose to any other person any information about the complaint or the hearing or the names of the people involved.
After the notice of hearing has been sent to the respondent, none of the parties or their representatives may communicate on an ex parte basis with the Commission, on any substantive matter pertaining to the complaint. All substantive communications to the Commission pertaining to the complaint shall be sent to the Commission office and shall be directed to the specially-appointed counsel to the Commission, and copies shall be sent to the Executive Director and the respondent, or the respondent’s representative.
The Commission’s chairperson shall have the power to rule on offers of proof and receipt of evidence in accordance with the following general principles:
- The hearing need not be conducted according to technical rules of evidence, and any relevant evidence, including hearsay of probative value, shall be admissible.
- Oral testimony shall be taken only under oath or affirmation.
- Evidence which possesses probative value commonly accepted by reasonable and prudent people shall be admitted. The rules of privilege shall be given effect, and incompetent, immaterial, and unduly repetitious evidence may be excluded.
- Documentary evidence may be received in the form of copies or excerpts, or through incorporation by reference. A copy of each document entered into evidence shall be made for each member of the Commission, the Executive Director, and the respondent, and the counsel to the Commission, unless the chairperson determines that producing that many copies would be cumbersome or wasteful. In that case, the Commission members and their counsel may share the number of copies that the chairperson shall have directed be made. The copy given to the chairperson shall be the official copy and shall be so marked.
- The Commission may take notice of judicially cognizable facts of general, technical, or scientific facts within their specialized knowledge, and may utilize their experience, technical competence, and specialized knowledge in the evaluation of the evidence presented to them.
Upon the application of the respondent, the Executive Director shall direct that a subpoena be issued to produce a witness/document. The respondent shall pay the costs of issuing the subpoena.
The Executive Director may make a brief opening statement followed by a brief opening statement given by or on behalf of the respondent.
- The Executive Director shall present the case to the Commission.
- The respondent may be represented by an attorney, and may cross examine any witnesses presented by the Executive Director.
- After cross examination by the respondent, the Executive Director may redirect questions to the witness.
- After the Executive Director has presented the case before the Commission, the respondent may present any witnesses, or any other evidence.
- The Executive Director may cross examine any witness presented by the respondent.
- After cross examination by the Executive Director, the respondent may re-direct questions to the witness.
- Rebuttal evidence shall be admissible, but evidence raising new issues shall not be permitted upon rebuttal.
At the conclusion of the presentation of all the evidence, the Executive Director and the respondent may, in that order, present a brief closing statement.
In its deliberations, the Commission may consider only evidence that is in the record. The record shall consist of only that evidence which was presented during the hearing, and shall not include any previously submitted reports.
The hearing shall be recorded and the recording will be kept for a reasonable period of time after the case is concluded. The Commission will maintain all case-related records in its office for four years.