Trachtenberg lashes out over search of staff member's computer
County attorney cites county code stating inquiry was legal
Montgomery County Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At large) of North Bethesda is criticizing County Attorney Leon Rodriguez, saying his office conducted an illegal search of her office's computers.
Trachtenberg sent Rodriguez a letter Friday asking for responses to nine questions, including whether her own computer was searched.
The search was conducted as part of an investigation into Trachtenberg's senior aide, Dana Beyer, which began earlier this year amid allegations that Beyer had violated the county's ethics law when she advocated in favor of the county's anti-discrimination law.
Beyer helped draft the law, which helps to protect transgendered people.
Beyer, who is transgendered, said her work computer, telephone and desk were searched without her knowledge.
The issue stems from January and February 2008, when the group Citizens for a Responsible Government circulated a petition to put the county's anti-discrimination bill passed in 2007 to referendum. However, the Maryland Court of Appeals eventually blocked the referendum.
On Oct. 7, 2008, Ruth Jacobs, president of the citizens group, filed a complaint against Beyer, claiming she violated county ethics law by attempting to discourage people from gathering signatures for the referendum.
On Jan. 23, the Ethics Commission referred the case to the Office of the County Attorney to investigate.
Beyer announced Nov. 17 that she had filed a complaint with the Montgomery County Human Rights Commission, saying she was being investigated because of her "gender identity."
In her letter to Rodriguez, Trachtenberg claims parts of that investigation were illegal.
Trachtenberg says that Beyer's computer was searched without the consent of the county's staff director, Stephen B. Farber, and without Trachtenberg's or Beyer's consent an action that she says is illegal.
While Rodriguez said he would not comment on Trachtenberg's letter until he has responded, he referenced the county code, which states that all investigations conducted on behalf of the Ethics Commission are confidential.
He said Trachtenberg was referring to an internal policy, not a law, when claiming Farber or a department head should have been notified about the search.
Internal policies cannot be followed if they violate existing law, Rodriguez said.
Trachtenberg said Monday that she does not agree with that "interpretation" and said that constitutional attorneys she has consulted agree.
"The regulation is clearly in place, and I think it's very clear that the department head needed to have notice and provide consent (before the search could occur)," she said.
In her letter, Trachtenberg writes: "And I intend on getting to the bottom of this reckless abuse of authority. The people of Montgomery County have an expectation of transparent and ethical behavior on the part of all public servants. And they deserve no less."