A Palm Beach County attorney wants to have an expert examine recordings of meetings of the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics to make sure they are full records of the proceedings.
In two letters to the commissioners and in an appearance before the commission Thursday, attorney Roma W. Theus II of Wellington suggested that recordings of the commission’s meetings did not include all comments made by commissioners.
He also wrote that remarks commissioners have made during commission proceedings could show commissioners are biased against the people its judging because of their financial status.
In a letter dated May 13, Theus asks for a new copy of recordings of commission meetings from Jan. 10 and Feb. 7 and asks the commission to set aside time for an expert in recording forensics to examine the original recording.
In particular, Theus’s letter cited two remarks he said showed the ethics commission takes into account the relative wealth of those involved in cases before it when making decision.
One of the comments was made by one of the two women on the commission – Commissioner Patricia Archer or Commissioner Robin Fiore – that referred to Theus’s client, Victoria McCullough.
McCullough, a Wellington resident, was involved in an ethics commission case over a campaign donation she made to Wellingon Mayor Robert Margolis. That case has been resolved, but while the commission was discussing it, a female commissioner said “McCullough could just go shopping” if the campaign donation were returned.
The second remark, according to Theus’s letter, was made by Ethics Commissioner Daniel Galo regarding “millionaires and billionaires fighting with each other” in the community.
In a follow-up letter dated June 5, Theus acknowledged the female commissioner’s remark could be heard after numerous rehearings of the recording. That left unresolved the question of why Galo’s remark is not part of the record.
In an interview Friday, Theus said it’s clear that something is wrong with the recording, though he declined to speculate about it until he can have a forensic examination of the recording done by an expert in the field.
“The clear issue is, the record should be complete,” he said.
Theus said he and several others heard Galo make the statement during a Jan. 10 closed-door meeting of the commission. At Thursday’s ethics commission meeting, Galo did not deny saying it. But it’s not part of the commission’s recording of the meeting.
“We’ll find out what happened,” Theus said. “I’m not going to get involved in discussing in the media what occurred.”
Because Galo’s remark is not audible on the recording he received from the commission, Theus’s letter asks for technical information about the commission’s recording equipment – such as make, model and maintenance history – as well as the commission’s procedures for preserving records and who has access to them.
Theus also reiterates his concerns about the commission’s activities, especially whether it is as impartial as the law requires.
“The general rule is that during trial no reference should be made to the wealth or poverty of a party, nor should the financial status of one party be contrasted with the other’s,” Theus wrote.
After listing a series of case law supporting the rule, he wrote:
“The (Commission on Ethics) violated this cardinal and fundamental rule … All litigants are equal before the bar of justice; and no bias for or against a litigant should occur because of the litigant’s wealth or lack thereof …”
The ethics commission – along with the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency – is the subject of an audit by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability requested by state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington.
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