Court to hear appeal of Anne Arundel councilman's ouster

The state's highest court will hear arguments over whether the Anne Arundel County Council was within its rights to oust former Councilman Daryl D. Jones when he was imprisoned for failing to file a tax return.

Jones' lawyer, Linda M. Schuett, said Saturday that the Maryland Court of Appeals' decision to hear the case speaks to the importance of the issues involved.

"The fact that they have decided to take this case on and hear arguments means they believe the case is an important one," she said. "I think that the ouster of an elected official is a very important issue."

Jones was released Thursday from a five-month federal prison sentence in South Carolina. The Severn Democrat pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor count of failing to file a tax return. He could not be reached for comment Saturday.

The council voted unanimously to declare Jones' seat vacant in January, and he later sued. In March, a judge ruled that the council could remove him.

The appeals court said Thursday that it will explore several questions, including whether the county can remove an elected official for a misdemeanor conviction or for inability to perform daily duties for five months, and how to interpret the county residency requirement for elected officials. A date for arguments has not been set.

In March, Circuit Judge Arthur M. Ahalt ruled that the County Charter requires council members to "reside" in the districts they represent. "Mr. Jones removed himself from his district when he reported to prison in South Carolina, thus vacating his office," wrote Ahalt, a retiredPrince George's County judge who was assigned to the case.

Schuett contended that the council's action was illegal because Jones was permanently domiciled in his district.

County Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson had advised the council that it could declare Jones' seat vacant when he went to prison. Hodgson said Saturday that the Court of Appeals' decision to take the case "means that the court felt that it was appropriate to be heard at that level, and that questions were presented that had statewide importance.

"And we agree."

In March, the council appointed Marine Reservist Peter I. Smith to replace Jones.

Smith said that from the beginning, he knew Jones would have the right to appeal. He said he will accept whatever decision the appeals court makes.

"My intent is to let the legal process play out," Smith, a Democrat, said Saturday. "I'm sure that whatever decision is made will be the best one."

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