Judge To Decide If Mayor Marks Violated State's Ethics Laws

Oct 8, 2012

An administrative law judge is deciding whether Tallahassee Mayor John Marks violated the state’s ethics laws in a series of complaints filed against him. Some have raised questions about a possible conflict of interest when Marks voted in favor of the city spending millions to contract with a company, that was represented by a law firm where Marks worked at the time of the vote.

Erwin Jackson filed the complaints against Mayor Marks, including one raising concerns about a conflict of interest when Marks voted “yes” in 2007 for the City of Tallahassee to contract with a corporate company named Honeywell to install smart meters.

The conflict came into play because at the time, the Mayor worked for the law firm Adorno & Yoss as a member of their Board of Advisors, and the firm represented Honeywell. During a hearing Monday, Administrative Law Judge Lawrence Stevenson heard arguments and depositions on the issue from several officials, including Marks himself:

“Did you have any concerns prior to asking Honeywell that Adorno & Yoss still represented Honeywell," asked Diane Guillemette, chief advocate for the Florida Commission of Ethics and prosecutor on the case.

"Well of course, that’s why I asked Honeywell to do it…to make a check to make sure," responded Marks.

"But, you did not ask Adorno & Yoss," Guillemette stated.

"Not at that time, no,” Marks replied.

Guillemette suggests Marks did not go through every avenue available to make sure there was no conflict of interest. But, Attorney for Mayor Marks, Barry Richard, disagrees:

“There’s a statute that says if a Commissioner is a lawyer and has knowledge of the fact that his law firm has been retained by the company that is before the Commission before a vote, he should not vote, he should abstain. But, he must have knowledge," said Richard. "The evidence is, without question and undisputed, that John Marks made a conscientious effort to find out whether there was a conflict and he was given valid information that there was not. I mean he really made a conscientious effort here on two separate occasions.”

Richards claims Marks sought counsel from the city attorney Jim English and Honeywell themselves, and found there was no conflict of interest. But, Jackson, who filed the complaint, still cries foul:

“The question was: Was there a conflict of interest? So, to check the conflict of interest, instead of contacting his law firm, at the time, Adorno & Yoss, he [Mayor Marks] contacted Honeywell," said Jackson. "And, he asked the salesman, who had just signed the 52-million dollar contract with the City of Tallahassee if the salesman thought there was a conflict of interest. Begs a question why didn’t Mayor Marks contact the attorneys at Adorno & Yoss and ask if there was a conflict of interest.”

In mid-June, the Florida Commission on Ethics found probable cause that the Mayor did violate the state’s ethics laws. Marks could have settled the case, but decided to contest the charges filed against him, denying he did anything wrong.

It’s unknown when the judge could come up with a decision. It could be as early as a few weeks away to about a month or so.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.