One price of an ethics bill in the Legislature, likely to included limits on gifts on lobbyists, may be a “loser pay” provision aimed at complaints merely intended to embarrass lawmakers or candidates.
During Monday’s joint meeting of the House and Senate ethics commissions, one of the most detailed proposals came from Atlanta attorney Doug Chalmers, who has strong GOP connections.
Read Chalmer’s entire proposal here. But focus on this portion:
(h) Authorize Commission to Award Attorneys Fees to Defendants in Cases Involving Frivolous Complaints.
All too frequently, complaints are filed against elected officials and lobbyists by individuals with a political agenda. In a number of these cases, the complaints are substantially frivolous, making allegations that are flatly inconsistent with the law or factual assertions that are demonstrably false from reports that are already on file with the Commission and publicly available. In many cases, the persons filing the complaints also do not bother to show up at the Ethics Commission hearing when their complaints are heard.
In other words, individuals are currently able to file frivolous complaints, require elected officials and lobbyists to incur costs to defend them, not bother to show up at the hearing to support or defend their allegations, and they are able to do this with impunity and without fear of consequences.
The Act should be revised to authorize the Commission to require payment of
defendants’ attorneys fees against anyone filing a complaint when either of the following is true:
(a) the complaint is deemed by the Commission to be frivolous, either factually or legally, or (b) the complaining party fails, without good cause, to show up for the preliminary hearing on the complaint. A provision like this promotes equity, because it gives the responding party an opportunity to confront his or her accuser, and to recoup his costs if a complaint is frivolous.
We’ve found at least one supporter of this idea on Democratic side. In an interview this morning, state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), who sits on the House Ethics Committee, says she would have no problem with that:
“I support attorney fees for frivolous complaints. There’s this little industry out there — ‘gotcha’ complainers. I think those people are not a helpful part of the political dialogue. I’m aware that there’s an element of politics that’s a pretty dangerous crowd. Seriously dangerous people. Some of them are mentally ill.
“Have you read the blogs? There’s a negativity and a hate-mongering that’s frightening to me.”
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