CSCE Aide Sues Rep. Hastings

Posted March 30, 2007 at 6:29pm

Alleging that he was wrongfully dismissed and seeking to win back his former job, an aide to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe filed suit last week against Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) in federal court.

According to documents filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the dispute centers on whether Hastings, who became the commission’s chairman in early January, could unilaterally fire counsel Matt Milosch in late March.

In his complaint Milosch, who is represented by the conservative group Judiciary Watch, is seeking reinstatement, as well as any legal fees and “such other relief as the court deems just and proper.”

At least for now, however, Hastings’ decision will be allowed to stand. A federal judge dismissed Wednesday a request from Milosch’s attorneys to grant a temporary restraining order against the Florida lawmaker.

Judge James Robertson has scheduled a hearing April 16 on a related motion that seeks a preliminary injunction against Hastings. In the meantime, Milosch has continued to report to work at the commission while his dismissal is being processed, according to his attorney.

In an interview Thursday, Hastings — who described the complaint as “much ado about nothing” — acknowledged he had dismissed Milosch as well as several other staff members, stating that the changes were necessary to incorporate new aides.

“I’m entitled to hire five people,” Hastings said of his new post at the organization commonly referred to as the Helsinki Commission. “I haven’t had any wholesale changes. … I probably could have in a new administration.”

“You can’t put 10 pounds of butter in a 5-pound sack,” he later added.

Established in 1976, the commission is responsible for monitoring compliance within the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 56-nation organization that focuses on security issues, ranging from arms control and diplomacy to human rights and election monitoring.

The commission is made up of 21 members, including nine House lawmakers and nine Senate lawmakers, as well as representatives from the State Department, Defense Department and Commerce Department.

The organization’s chairman and co-chairman are selected by the House and Senate majority leadership, which alternate control of the commission each Congress. In addition, the CSCE, which is housed in the Ford House Office Building, maintains a professional staff of 18 aides, according to court documents.

According to the commission’s internal rules, the hiring or dismissal of staff members must be approved by the Personnel and Administration Committee, made up of two Republican and two Democratic lawmakers.

In his complaint, Milosch, who was hired in November under then-Chairman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), contends that his dismissal was opposed by both Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Smith, who continues to serve on the commission.

In a Feb. 2 letter to Hastings, which cited the pending dismissals of Milosch and three other commission aides, the Republicans stated: “Certainly one of the characteristics of the Commission which has been valued and duly recognized is the non-partisan continuity of staff. The Commissioners are well served by this professional perspective.”

But Hastings contends that Milosch — the only aide to contest his dismissal — was improperly hired onto the commission, without Democratic approval, and does not need the committee’s approval to be fired.

“The real truth of the matter is no one was ever given an opportunity to object to his being hired,” Hastings asserted.

A spokesman for Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), who served as ranking House member on the panel at the time Milosch was hired, did not return a request for comment.