DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton speaks during a meeting on Aug 26, 2014. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

DeKalb commissioner’s lawsuit says ethics board is unconstitutional

Court filings in DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton’s ongoing lawsuit allege that the DeKalb County Board of Ethics is unconstitutional, acting as “prosecutor, judge and jury” as it reviews cases against public officials.

Sutton’s attorney wrote this month that the board is an “unconstitutional delegation of power” because some of its members are appointed by private organizations.

Ethics complaints against Sutton has been on hold since November, when a judge prevented her case from going forward as her lawsuit is pending.

The March 8 court filing by Sutton’s attorney, Dwight Thomas, asks Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson to throw out the county’s ethics changes that were approved by 92 percent of voters in November.

The board was restructured in January as a result of the vote, with its politically appointed members replaced by individuals appointed by community groups, judges and state legislators.

Thomas objected to the four board members appointed by private organizations: the DeKalb Bar Association, the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, Leadership DeKalb and a consortium of universities and colleges.

The ethics overhaul also resulted in the county hiring its first full-time ethics officer, Stacey Kalberman, who will be responsible for investigating misbehavior and training government employees.

An attorney for the Board of Ethics, Gene Chapman, said Sutton’s lawsuit is an attempt to delay the ethics case against her, which has been pending for nearly two years.

“Petitioner implies the board is exceeding its jurisdiction, but offers only allegations which are not true and have no basis in fact or law,” Chapman wrote in a Jan. 29 motion. “Rather than following petitioner down this trail, the court should dismiss the claim as moot.”

Sutton faces ethics complaints alleging that she misspent government money, approved using county employees for political fundraising and expended taxpayer funds on her personal attorney.

Sutton has said all of her spending was appropriate and related to legitimate government purposes.

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