Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose has hired a politically connected Bethesda law firm to help him win approval from ethics officials to write a book revealing the inside story of the Washington area sniper manhunt.
The law firm sent a letter Monday to the Montgomery County Ethics Commission on Moose's behalf, reminding the five-member panel that "there are some serious constitutional issues involved in telling people they can't write books," according to Ronald Karp, the attorney who has been retained by the chief.
One of Karp's partners in the firm is Maryland Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery). Montgomery County Council President Michael L. Subin (D-At Large) was recently made "of counsel" to Karp, Frosh, Lapidus, Wigodsky & Norwind. Neither politician will work on the Moose case, Karp said.
Moose signed a deal with a New York publishing house in January to write the book, tentatively titled "Three Weeks in October: The Manhunt for the D.C. Sniper," scheduled for release this fall. Almost immediately, ethics officials began questioning whether it was appropriate for the nationally known lawman to profit off the investigation he helped lead.
The commission met for the second time last night to deliberate over Moose's application for a waiver from stringent ethics laws that restrict county employees from profiting off their public work. A panel member said the board would not immediately announce whether it had made its decision. To prevent reporters outside the meeting hall from hearing their deliberations, the panel put a white-noise machine by the door.
The panel also considered whether it was proper for Moose to sell his story to a Hollywood television production company and to launch a consulting firm with his wife to market the chief's skills as a motivational speaker and his expertise in team-building, crisis management and conflict resolution.
Prior rulings from the commission have prevented similar ventures, including a December decision that barred Montgomery County police officers from collecting even nominal payment for speeches about the highly publicized sniper investigation.
County leaders, including County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), have lined up to support the chief and his desire to launch the money-making endeavors. Duncan said Moose has a unique opportunity to share with the world an account of the grueling three-week hunt for the men who allegedly killed 10 people and wounded three others in the region.
"The chief's story of that experience, as well as his life's work in law enforcement, is a compelling one, and I continue to feel strongly that he should have the opportunity to tell it," Duncan has said, adding that he would consider asking the County Council to grant the chief a special exemption from the ethics rules, should the commission attempt to derail his book.
Karp said yesterday that should the commission rule against Moose, the chief has legitimate grounds for a court appeal. Beyond the free speech questions, Karp said he would argue that the ethics law was never intended to apply to situations such as Moose's.
"These ethics rules were designed to prevent bribery and to prevent people from taking money to exert influence over legislation," Karp said. "None of that is happening here."
One question that may cause the commission concern, outside experts said, is that the inside details that make Moose's story so compelling to publishers are not really Moose's to sell. Suzanne Fox, executive director of the Maryland State Ethics Commission, said public employees are not supposed to take advantage of confidential information. Moose would have a hard time providing his "inside account" without using information that the public did not know, she said.
While publisher Dutton Books is marketing the book as "the only inside account of the hunt for the Washington, D.C., sniper," Moose has said publicly that he will not use confidential material in telling his story, or any material that would compromise the case against the two sniper suspects.
He has also said he would allow prosecutors to vet the book when it is finished.
Moose's is one of several books about the sniper case in the works, including one by reporters at The Washington Post.