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Arundel council cleared to replace Jones when he enters prison

The Anne Arundel County Council can begin the process of replacing Councilman Daryl D. Jones next week when he begins serving a five-month federal prison sentence, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr., a retired Court of Special Appeals judge, ruled against a request by Jones' attorney for a temporary restraining order to prevent the council from selecting a replacement. Earlier this month, another judge threw out a similar request, calling it premature because Jones had not suffered harm.

"Nothing that I've heard shows any irreparable harm to the plaintiff," said Thieme, who opened the normally closed-door hearing to the public "because of the interest in this case."

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to declare Jones' seat vacant when he reports to federal prison Monday in South Carolina. Jones, a Severn Democrat, recused himself from the vote. The council will have 30 days from then to select a replacement, who must live in the district and be a Democrat.

Thieme was assigned to the case by the county Circuit Court's chief administrative judge after a request by County Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson. He did not rule on a request by Jones' attorney, Linda M. Schuett, to speed a final decision on the case.

The judge will now have to decide several legal questions, including whether the County Council has the authority under the Maryland Constitution to decide qualifications of council members and whether Jones continues to meet the residency requirements to serve on the council while incarcerated.

The council will proceed with its process of appointing a replacement while awaiting a final ruling. A decision in favor of Jones could force the council to dismiss its replacement. Jones was sentenced in November to five months in prison for the misdemeanor charge of failing to file a tax return.

Schuett, a former county attorney under a previous administration, disagreed with Thieme's ruling, saying that the council acted "illegally" and the bill "dishonors the votes from the people in his district," who twice elected Jones to public office. The councilman was first elected in 2006.

"In my mind, an elected official losing their seat is huge," Schuett said after the hearing. "It's extraordinary."

Deputy County Attorney David Plymyer, who argued against granting the restraining order, said Jones' absence would impede the operation of county government because he would miss several public meetings at which important legislation is considered.

"Mr. Jones will be incarcerated in federal prison in South Carolina," said Plymyer. "There he will be provided food, lodging and, if needed, medical care. His only loss is the prestige of office."

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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