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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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