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DeKalb Ethics Board resumes work despite judge’s ruling

Even though a judge invalidated most of its members, the DeKalb County Board of Ethics returned to work Tuesday while that decision is being appealed.

The embattled board didn’t take up any cases, but its business meeting made a statement: Ethics oversight of government officials will continue.

“It’s about public integrity. There’s no question it’s important that we do the work we were put here to do,” said Dan DeWoskin, the board’s chairman.

He said he’s confident board members are justified in continuing in a role that most voters wanted when they overwhelmingly approved the panel’s creation in 2015.

But several residents at the meeting weren’t convinced. They said the board should respect the judge’s decision and hold off on moving forward.

“My major concern is the fact that they’re meeting after a judge ruled they were unconstitutional,” said Teresa Hardy, president of the DeKalb NAACP. “When a judge rules, it should stand.”

The DeKalb Board of Ethics is tasked with considering non-criminal allegations of misconduct by the county’s elected officials, government employees and contractors. It has the power to levy $1,000 fines, issue public reprimands and refer cases for potential misdemeanor prosecution by the county solicitor.

DeKalb Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson decided April 28 that non-governmental groups, such as the DeKalb Bar Association and local colleges, didn’t have the authority to appoint most of the board’s members. Four of the board’s members were chosen by private organizations, and three were seated by elected officials.

The decision was a victory for former DeKalb Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton, who filed a lawsuit against the board to prevent it from considering her alleged misspending of public money. Sutton lost re-election last year, but her legal case is still being fought.

State Rep. Vernon Jones, who attended the board’s meeting, said the fact that the case is being appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court shouldn’t make a difference.

“How can they take action when the judge ruled them unconstitutional?” asked Jones, D-Lithonia. “They’re breaking the law. This board should not be above the law.”

The board’s attorney, Darren Summerville, disagreed with the assessment by Jones, who is not a lawyer.

Summerville said Georgia law is clear that an appeal overrides a judge’s ruling in a civil case, meaning the board can operate as it had before Jackson’s decision.

“As a matter of law, the appeal superseded the judgment, which means it preserves the status quo while the appeal is considered by the Georgia Supreme Court,” Summerville said.

During the board’s meeting, it met in closed-door executive session to discuss the ongoing court case and approved minutes from its last meeting in April.

Board members haven’t decided whether to hold hearings on allegations about ethical infractions at future meetings, DeWoskin said.


The AJC's Mark Niesse keeps you updated on the latest happenings in DeKalb County government and politics. You'll find more on, including these stories:

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