A former St. Mary's County administrator who sued the county commissioners after he was fired in 2003 will be allowed to inquire about the discussions they held in a private session before his departure, according to a ruling by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
The decision found that Alfred A. Lacer had presented a " 'strong showing' of the existence of an impropriety" by the Board of County Commissioners, which voted to fire Lacer more than a year before his contract expired.
After he was dismissed, Lacer filed a $1.6 million lawsuit against the commissioners, alleging that they violated the county's open meetings law by not including him in an executive session at which his fate was decided and by not letting him have the meeting in public.
Lacer had been hired for a 41/2-year term in January 2000 under the previous board of commissioners. After the November 2002 election, three of the five members were replaced.
After the newly elected officials took over in December 2002, they chose to remove Lacer, a decision that left him nearly $150,000 short of what his contract would have provided.
In August 2003, the St. Mary's Circuit Court ruled that the commissioners had violated that contract and that Lacer was entitled to prior notice if they intended to discuss his employment. That decision was appealed by the county. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals decision upholding that ruling was filed July 18.
"Lacer is pleased that the Court of Special Appeals affirmed the trial court's determination. He's not pleased it's taken two years for that to occur," said Lacer's attorney, Stephen P. Fitzgerald. "The delay is just ridiculous in light of the circumstances in this case."
Fitzgerald said he planned to depose the county commissioners and a secretary present at the meeting and seek documents relating to Lacer from the April 1, 2003, executive session. He said proof that Lacer's firing was arranged in secret would mean the commissioners "are going to be required to reinstate him."
"All [Lacer] wants is what he's entitled to under the contract, that's all he wants . . . plus expenses and attorney's fees," Fitzgerald said.
Commissioners President Thomas F. McKay (R-At Large) and County Attorney John Norris did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment. In an executive session Tuesday, the commissioners discussed the case. County spokeswoman Jennifer Fabbricante said a news release on the case was to be released yesterday, too late for the Southern Maryland Extra deadline.
At the time of his firing, Lacer -- a registered Republican and former county attorney -- had lived and worked in St. Mary's for 25 years.
In the closed session in 2003, McKay moved to fire Lacer, and he was joined in the vote by Commissioners Larry Jarboe (R-Golden Beach) and Kenneth R. Dement (R-Callaway), The Washington Post reported at the time.
"If I were Mr. Lacer, I would've tendered my resignation the day the new government came to town and applied for the job again. Certainly as county administrator, he understood very well he reported to them and needed to be on the same page," McKay said in 2003.