Sunday, October 18, 2009

Byrnes Facing Ethics Charges, Receives APP Endorsement

Ethics complaints were filed against Sean Byrnes, the Democratic candidate for Monmouth County Freeholder and a Middletown Township Committee member with the state Local Finance Board and with the state Attorney Ethics Committee last week.

Byrnes, an attorney, has been charged in his capacity as a member of the Middletown Township Committee with voting and commenting on the appointment of Thomas F. Stokes to the Middletown Sewerage Authority on January 6, 2008. Stokes, who filed the complaint with the Local Finance Board on October 15 and with the Attorney Ethics Committee on October 16, says Byrnes has a conflict of interest because he is the opposing counsel in various lawsuits involving Stokes that have been ongoing since 2001.

The minutes of the January 6, 2008 Middletown Township Committee meeting indicate that Byrnes voted No, with comment, on the Stokes appointment and that of all Sewerage Authority appointees.

The Asbury Park Press endorsed Byrnes for Freeholder today. In fairness to the APP, they were probably unaware of, and certainly haven't had the time to look into the ethics charges prior to making their endorsement.

Stokes said, "It is very clear that the Democrat candidate for Freeholder is guilty of unethical conduct as a township committee member. I am tired of public officials thinking they are above the law, regardless of political party.

Mr. Byrnes has been involved in an adversarial relationship with myself, through litigation, since at least 2001. Yet, even though he had this business and personal, adversarial relationship, he failed to recuse himself when my appointment to the Township of Middletown Sewer Authority. Even though he is an attorney, Mr. Byrnes' refusal to obey the law in this regard should disqualify him from holding any public office."

Stokes cited the law governing municipal elected officials:

40A:9-22.5 Provisions requiring compliance by local government officers, employees
Local government officers or employees under the jurisdiction of the Local Finance Board shall comply with the following provisions:

d. No local government officer or employee shall act in his official capacity in any matter where he, a member of his immediate family, or a business organization in which he has an interest, has a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment;


MoreMonmouthMusings asked Fair Haven Mayor Mike Halfacre, also an attorney, to comment on this situation without divulging who was involved. We posed the scenario where an elected official who is an attorney votes against the appointment of a citizen to a local board or authority and the appointee is a party to a suit wherein the elected official is opposing counsel. Halfacre said, "Without knowing the facts or doing any research, that scenario is very close to the line and probably a conflict for the person in his capacity as an elected official. If the vote and comments where influenced by knowledge the official obtained while acting as an attorney, it could be a violation of the Attorneys Code of Ethics as well."

Another attorney and elected official who declined to be named in this story went further, "Elected officials must always avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. As attorneys it is pounded into our heads for three years of law school to avoid these types of conflicts. If the elected official in question acted or commented based on knowledge obtained through his or her case, that person's license to practice law is at risk."

Byrnes has not yet responded to requests for comment. This story will be updated if he does.

Stokes' complaint and supporting documentation can be viewed here.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

The APP endorsement cited Byrnes' "transparency". Some transparency.

At the Lincroft Village Green candidates night, Pat Short answered a question on ethics and indicated there was no room in public office for unethical officials. Will he now tell that to his running mate, Byrnes?

Anonymous said...

I loved the part where it says Byrnes has no public jobs....except for his pensionable township post, and the prosecutors posts he lost

Anonymous said...

the APP needs to be shown we are tired of their wearing out of Bid-Rig, big-time, to sell papers for a couple of years, while helping the "Lib-cancer"-spreading Dems from North Jersey and NY,who move here for the good way of life, then vote to make it like the cesspools they left!..no thanks,APP, for helping to take our county down with you, we aren't letting that happen this year again!..!..

Anonymous said...

The record shows Byrnes has 10 years and 3 months in the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), his account is still ACTIVE at PERS. The ten years qualifies him for a pension!

Anonymous said...

How sad the fact our political process has been poisoned by self serving attorneys who feed upon our political system for status & financial gain.

Anonymous said...

GRIP

Get Rid of Idiot Politicians who say one thing and do another (do as I say, not as i do!)

Bye, Bye Byrnesie!

Anonymous said...

you guys are so bias its said. Sean does not represent ANY towns or public areas as an attorney...a big difference than say Peter Carton or Joe Oxley.

Art - this is the best you have to counter the APP endorsement?

You defend local republicans so blindly despite what they do. I've never seen you call a single Republican out. You've never gone after Oxley or Mr. O'Scanlon for getting cell towers everywhere or anything. Really, really sad. I hope your utter bias allows you to put your head on the pillow at night.

Art Gallagher said...

Art - this is the best you have to counter the APP endorsement?

This is pretty good, might be the best. There will be more.

You defend local republicans so blindly despite what they do. I've never seen you call a single Republican out.

You haven't been reading very long.

Adam Puharic, Bill Barham, Malcom Carton.

You've never gone after Oxley or Mr. O'Scanlon for getting cell towers everywhere or anything.

Oxley declined to seek the chairmanship while he was sheriff. When he announced he was seeking the chairmanship his new partners gave up a $300K+ county contract. Neither of the above was required by law, but was the right thing to do. Oxley is a very good municipal attorney.

O'Scanlon was a cell tower consultant before entering the Assembly. Since becoming a legislator, he does not solicit business with towns in his district. There is no legal requirement that he avoid this business.

Really, really sad. I hope your utter bias allows you to put your head on the pillow at night

It does. I don't hide my bias.

Art Gallagher said...

Sean does not represent ANY towns or public areas as an attorney...

That's because he lost those jobs. He has already qualified for a pension from his various government jobs. Now its a matter of getting higher paying jobs before retirement. Republicans do this too. It stinks.

Apparently the APP didn't check Sean's PERS status.

Anonymous said...

What a farce. Does this mean the GOP Freeholders will refuse to appoint anyone who ever contributed to any of their compaigns? Once again we see the GOP leadership provides no leadership just more nonsense.

ambrosiajr said...

Isn't this the same Stokes that has sued the Bd. of Ed.? Seems a little sue happy.

Anonymous said...

The APP continues to shill for the Dems. This is Byrne's second ethical "issue" in this campaign cycle. And let's not forget that the APP endorsed Curley the last time. What's changed? Corzine is facing double digit deficits in Monmouth County. Fortunately, no one reads the APP anymore, so their endorsements matter less every year.

Anonymous said...

This seems a grey area to me. If his client who pays him was up for an appointment he could not vote on that but neither he or his client obtain any edge in the litigation because Stokes is or is not on the Sewerage authority.
I am just not feeling it. Even if I am wrong I do not think it is a clear cut isuue.

While I diagree with Byrnes on his party affiliation and all that that means, he seems like a decent chap and the effort to demonize appears unseemly.

Sort of like Corzine complaining about Christie making a loan to a subordinate. As Republicans we can do better.

Art Gallagher said...

This seems a grey area to me. If his client who pays him was up for an appointment he could not vote on that but neither he or his client obtain any edge in the litigation because Stokes is or is not on the Sewerage authority.
I am just not feeling it. Even if I am wrong I do not think it is a clear cut isuue.


I thought too when I first heard about the issue, which is why I started asking attorneys about it without telling them who it was about. Evidently it is a major issue.

He is a decent chap. He's made a couple of stupid mistakes which are ethical violations.

I disagree that there is an effort to demonize him, at least here on this blog. I reported the facts, sought expert comments and gave him an opportunity to respond, which is still open.

Anonymous said...

"If the elected official in question acted or commented based on knowledge obtained through his or her case, that person's license to practice law is at risk."

I would like some elucidation on that point.

If the lawyer found out during the litigation that the guy was a jerk and voted against him is that an ethical violation?

Usually conflicts arise when there is a financial benefit to the conflicted party. What is the financial benefit to Byrnes?

For lawyers their is also a conflict when your clients or former clients intrests might be adversly effected. I do not see that here?

Does it just not look right? The NJ supreme Court has disposed of the appearance of impropriety standard.

I will bet you a Maxs hot dog and a root beer that the ethics complaint gets kicked.

Anonymous said...

Blogger ambrosiajr said...

"Isn't this the same Stokes that has sued the Bd. of Ed.? Seems a little sue happy"

If you read the documentation, Byrnes has been suing Stokes since 2004. Prior to that, he was in litigation against Stokes as opposing counsel in another matter.

By the way, it was Cathy Sullivan who sued the school board, while at the same time giving tens of thousands of dollars to a sitting board member, Pat Walsh, who hid her financial relationship with Sullivan by filing deceptive financial disclosure forms.

Mrs. Walsh tried, and failed, to have the school board and the taxpayers pay her exorbitant legal fees.

Anonymous said...

Byrnes did nothing wrong, if you go back and look at the minutes from the meeting, Bynres did not mention anyone by name!

He simply stated that he was opposed to appointing people to township positions where they would be intitled to salarie, health and pension bennies.

Stokes is a tool and so are you Art.

This complaint will go nowhere and only shows that the GOP can't win an election on their own merits, they must rely on dirty trick and mud.

Art Gallagher said...

Byrnes did nothing wrong, if you go back and look at the minutes from the meeting, Bynres did not mention anyone by name!

He simply stated that he was opposed to appointing people to township positions where they would be intitled to salarie, health and pension bennies.


You got that from reading the minutes? I don't think so. That might be what he said...you'd have to listen to the tape, since he did not respond to requests to comment for this story. Even so, he still should have recused himself from the Stokes appointment.

Stokes is a tool and so are you Art.

New MMM rule. If you're going to call someone names, give your own, otherwise the comment is not posted.

This complaint will go nowhere and only shows that the GOP can't win an election on their own merits, they must rely on dirty trick and mud.

Byrnes should have responded to my email, voice mail or text. I would have been happy to print his comments or killed the story if he had given he information to convince me there was nothing to the story.

Anonymous said...

minutes of municiapl meetings are summaries, not verbatim transcripts of the meeting.

Anonymous said...

"Byrnes should have responded to my email, voice mail or text. I would have been happy to print his comments or killed the story if he had given he information to convince me there was nothing to the story."

Sean did respond to Max Pizzaro's story....because Max is an actual journalist writing for a credible news site.

Are you a journalist Art? No, your a Republican blogger. Theres nothing wrong with that but you don't really have much influence except over a small group of people who already know who they are voting for, which would actually mean you have no influence. This isn't meant to offend you - its just reality. I mean you are in the same way Blue Jersey is a Democratic blog except they do have a lot of influence because they are able to organize for rallies etc. and the national blogs all pay attention to them. Outside of Middletown, the handful of local Republicans and maybe some of the Republican elected officials in the rest of the county, no one else reads it.

I say that as a former Republican municipal chair outside of Middletown.

Who are you that he has to respond to? All your readers are either Scahrflenberger or other local Republicans who already know who they are voting for.

Art Gallagher said...

I never said Sean had to respond. I said he should have repsonded. I said that in response to a troll, obviously not a Republican, who was complaining about this story.

Given what Sean told Max, it wouldn't have mattered much what he told me had he responded. At least he didn't do what the Middletown Dems did last year and attack this blog and its writers as liars rather than respond our well researched material.

As far as being a jouranlist..if only I could afford to be! Would anyone like to buy a portfolio of commercial vehicle leases and a used truck dealership?

You'd be surprised about how widely this blog is read. I'm surprised by it almost daily.