MILTON, Ga. — A Milton man is having to defend himself in court after filing an ethics complaint against a city council member.
“I’m a citizen of Milton. I thought wrongdoing occurred with a government official, so I came forward and filed an ethics complaint,” Tony Palazzo told Channel 2 consumer investigator Justin Gray.
A formal ethics panel ruled that Milton City Councilman Paul Moore did in fact violate city ethics rules by not recusing himself from a vote related to the subdivision where he lived.
But for Palazzo, who filed that ethics complaint, that was just the beginning. He’s named as a defendant along with the city and the ethics board in a writ of certiorari filed in Fulton Superior Court by Moore.
The legal petition demands the decision by the ethics board be overturned and that Moore’s legal fees be paid.
Palazzo said he was forced to hire legal counsel of his own, worried he could be on the hook for those legal fees.
“I thought it was a simple process. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d have to retain legal counsel, go to evidentiary hearings, and now fight in superior court over the findings of a three-attorney ethics panel,” Palazzo said.
Last fall, the Milton City Council declined to formally punish Moore for the ethics panel’s findings. The ethics panel had recommended a written censure or reprimand.
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“I believe Councilman Moore has been sufficiently sanctioned,” Milton Mayor Peyton Jamison said at an October council meeting.
Moore told Channel 2 Action News in a written statement:
“My petition in Fulton Superior Court is nothing more than an appeal of his complaint, and it was filed in the format required under an old state law….it is ironic that, having started this process by filing a complaint against me, Mr. Palazzo is now complaining that he finds himself in court. The only reason that has happened is because I have refused to lay down, and I am continuing to defend myself against his charges.”
“It’s very chilly, it’s frightening,” said Richard T. Griffiths with the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. “While it may not technically be a lawsuit, it is nevertheless the kind of thing you may have to spend money defending yourself against.”
Palazzo said he’s already spent about $30,000 in legal fees and worries about what message this sends to others.
“If you’re in fear of financial ruin, why in the world would you come forward and subject yourself to this,” Palazzo said.
“In this case, a legitimate complaint to the ethics commission was upheld and now that citizen is facing legal repercussions that are scary and potentially expensive and that’s not right,” Griffiths said.
In his statement to Channel 2 Action News, Moore wrote:
“As to attorney’s fees, the City Code of Ethics provides that an elected official has a right to recover fees he spent defending himself if a complaint against him is eventually dismissed by a court. I assume that Mr. Palazzo was aware of that when he chose to file his complaint against me.”
A hearing on all this is set for May.
Milton City Attorney Ken Jarrard told Gray, “Council member Paul Moore has taken advantage of his appellate rights under the City’s ethics code. The City of Milton will respect and honor any decision of the court.”
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