A U.S. Civil Service Commission appeals officer, in a strongly worded opinion has upheld the firing of an assistant city prosecutor for his involvement in the cancellation of 140 traffic tickets over a 26-month period.
Assistant D.C. Corporation Counsel Colenester B. Jones was charged with abuse of discretion in that he induced other prosecutors to cancel 54 tickets issue to his two cars and that Jones himself had canceled 95 tickets issued to nine other persons, most of whom worked in his office.
Chief civil service appeals officer Thomas J. Lanphear said it was "incredible" that Jones could receive an average of two traffic tickets a month, all of which were supposedly "issued in error or were excusable due to proper justification." The appeals decision noted that most of the tickets were issued in the vicinity of the D.C. Superior Court, where Jones worked.
The decision said it was "equally incredible" that Jones would contend, as he did in his appeal, that while the 54 tickets issued to his car were justifiably canceled, he could not remember any specifics about them. The six-page opinion was signed by Lanphear and assistant appeals officer Paul G. Streb.
While it is "less likely" that Jones would remember details about the 95 tickets he canceled for other persons he called no witnesses to explain the reasons for those dismissals, the decision said.
City records show that 58 of the 95 tickets canceled by Jones had been issued against Victor O. Frazer, also an assistant corporation counsel, who was fired in connection with cancellation of more than 200 traffic tickets.
John R. Risher Jr., D.C. corporation counsel at the time, ordered both men be dismissed from their jobs in April after they refused to accept reprimands and pay $1,605 in traffic fines Risher contended were owed on tickets they canceled.
In affirming Risher's action in Jones' case yesterday, the civil service appeals officer said, "In view of (Jones') position as a trial attorney with responsibility to prosecute violations of the law, we find the penalty of removal to be warranted."
Jones had consistently asserted that he acted within his discretion when he dismissed the tickets or when he requested that tickets be canceled for him. Because he is a war veteran, Jones was entitled to bring his appeal for reinstatement to the civil service commission. Frazer has appealed his dismissal through the mayor's office.
In support of Jones' claim that his actions were proper, Assistant Corporation Counsel Frank P. Miller and former assistant Herbert N. Harmon appeared before the civil service appeals officer. The two said they had canceled 14 tickets for Jones. They contended the reasons were "valid" but could not recollect specific circumstances surrounding the tickets.
The appeals officer said he could give "little weight to this testimony." The decision noted that Harmon testified he sometimes dismissed tickets for fellow attorneys in his officer with no explanation required because "he asumed there were valid reasons for the dismissals on the basis of his knowledge of the attorneys."
D.C. Police Department records, obtained by The Washington Post, show that 52 tickets issued to Harmon were dismissed between June 1975 and August 1977, the same period during which the tickets involving Jones were dismissed.
Jones' attorney, Henry H. Jones, argued on appeal that the corporation counsel's office had the burden of showing that his client had acted wrongly when he dismissed tickets or sought their cancellation.
In the decision received by the city this week, the appeals officer said, however, "We find that (Jones') impropriety can be inferred from his failure to offer any explanation of the (tickets) in question."
Jones can now ask the full appeals review board to view the decision of the appeals officer. Jones, 49, joined the law enforcement section of the corporation counsel's office in February 1973 and earned $28,623 annually at the time he was fired.