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    2nd ethics panel attorney resigns after OIG probe

     

    By JIM WALLS

    The other shoe dropped Tuesday at the State Ethics Commission, as the agency’s lone remaining full-time attorney resigned.

    Tom Plank, a lawyer there since 2007 and the agency’s top administrator earlier this year, quit to take another job in the Washington, D.C., area. Colleagues said Plank dropped off his resignation letter and left the office without saying what that job would be.

    Plank leaves three weeks after Georgia Inspector General Liz Archer released an investigative report that concluded Plank made phone calls and did Internet research for a private law practice on state time.

    Yasha Heidari, Plank’s partner in the private practice, resigned in April while the investigation was ongoing. Plank has not spoken publicly about the inquiry, but Heidari has dismissed its findings as “garbage.”

    The resignations temporarily leave the commission without a full-time attorney, which could hamper investigations and the agency’s efforts to clear up a backlog of cases. Heidari’s position will be used to hire an information technology specialist, rather than a lawyer, to help the commission handle new responsibilities created by Georgia’s 2010 campaign finance law.

    Stacey Kalberman, an attorney hired in April as the commission’s new executive secretary, said Plank’s departure should not cause “significant delays” in the agency’s work, which includes a high-profile investigation of Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine:

    The Commission wishes Mr. Plank the best of luck in his future endeavors.  As for the Commission workload, I am very involved in all of the legal work of the Commission and do not expect any significant delays in resolving matters due to Mr. Plank’s departure. The  Commission has already begun the search for another staff attorney who will also act as Deputy Executive Secretary.  Specifically with respect to the Oxendine and related matters, we are assisted by the Attorney General and do not expect any delays in that investigation.

    But Plank’s departure means no lawyer on staff has an institutional memory that goes back farther than April. Plank, who had worked the Oxendine case, served as interim executive secretary for six months before Kalberman came on board.

    Oxendine and two Rome-based insurance firms are accused of circumventing campaign finance laws to donate $120,000 to his losing race for governor. The commission is expected to schedule a hearing on the case soon.

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    4 Responses to “2nd ethics panel attorney resigns after OIG probe”

    1. Disgusted says:

      How convenient – perhaps the Ox encouraged their leaving thinking his dastardly actions will just die and all will go away. Ox – your department sucks – insurance companies running wild doing whatever they want to claimants – even pushing some people into health altering situations. You are an insult to your position.

    2. tom watson says:

      Jim Walls for ethics commission!

    3. Bill Bozarth says:

      Between budget cuts and staff turnover, our State Ethics Commission is having trouble performing its mission effectively. Three things need to happen: 1.) The legislature needs to provide adequate funding to allow this department to do the work it has laid on them. 2.) The Governor and the State Senate need to fill the two expiring seats with Commissioners who are willing to bring a strong enforcement mentality to their assigned task. 3.) Ms. Kalberman needs to rebuild her team with dedicated people who can bring maximum efficiency to the work of the Commission.

      Georgia should have an independent body charged with enforcing not only campaign finance laws, but laws governing conflict of interest by elected officials, but we don’t. Before we even think of expanding the role of this commission, we need to get it working again doing the job it’s already got.

      It was the State Ethics Commission, even with with its limited mission, that began the series of events that resulted in the public corruption trials and conviction in Federal Court of such notable figures as former Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker and former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell. This body has done some good work over the years. If it had been the plan of those in power at the Capitol to neuter the one agency that holds them to some accountability, then they have achieved their objective. It’s time to put this train back on the tracks.

    4. 1 man of many says:

      Bill you and your buddies over at Common Cause are a big part of the problem.

      First you watched as Teddy Lee, a man held by most to be fair, able and non-partisan was forced out by Sonny and said nothing.

      You then put your stamp of approval on Rick Thompson, “Ethics man of the Year” was it? After a lackluster run he turns around and signs on board as the “Ultimate Ethics Insider” for the man he was charged with investigating a day before. Whether you like Oxendine or not, this is clearly reprehensible conduct for an employee of the State charged with the enforcement of our Ethics laws! Yet have you once denounced his conduct? What would your definition of corruption be anyway?

      Then his hand-picked protégé Tom Plank steps up to the plate, a rookie lawyer with no real experience and who had a great deal of trouble even passing the bar (8/5/2008!). And what does Tom deliver us in his first and totally undeserved staring roll, but a shameful performance in this position of public trust? Not even a growl from the “Watchdog” when you were singing his phrases in the press just recently.

      I find it interesting to note that even his resignation letter was written on software belonging to Emory University. Where did this document come from, because this is not a PDF, or even a copy, this was straight from Tom’s HDD and then dispersed via electronic means. This and the timing make its production unlikely by Open Records.

      Surely in the light of the very possible criminal prosecution of he and his partner this happy go lucky notice of departure was supposed to lay fallow in his personnel folder to camouflage his leaving as one of happy circumstance. It looks pretty ridiculous in the light of current events!

      I will give Tom more credit then his apparently former founding partner, Heidari, in keeping his mouth shut. How utterly presumptuous to try and offer a legal opinion in a case where you are one of the primary suspects; “Garbage,” indeed.

      Please do not repeat the lie that these fine gentlemen, Thompson, Plank and Heidari cleaned out a years old backlog of cases, that would be the work of others and you should know that.

      But where is Common Cause in finding fault with any of this? You have been all too quick with very positive press at anything the SEC has done, but where are you on the real issues of its failure. You seem little more then their PR Unit! Watch dog or lap dog, which is it?

      The Problem with the State Ethics Commission is simple, too many politicians. The idea that politicians can be trusted to police their own is ridiculous. It is time for REAL Change!

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