Fired Aide to Drop Lawsuit Against Hastings

Posted April 6, 2007 at 6:22pm

Both sides in an employment dispute at a government commission headed by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) said last week that a pending lawsuit over the matter will soon be nullified.

An aide to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which Hastings took over as chairman in January, said Thursday he has reached a settlement with the organization and soon could end his action against Hastings in the federal court system.

“Once the agreement has been fully performed then we expect to withdraw the suit,” said Mark Milosch, who serves as counsel to the commission and filed the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed March 28 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, centers on a dispute over whether Hastings could unilaterally fire Milosch, which he did in late March.

The lawsuit contended that under the commission’s internal rules, an administrative committee of two Republican and two Democratic lawmakers, including Hastings, is required to approve any personnel decisions, including Milosch’s dismissal.

Hastings denied any wrongdoing in late March, asserting that Milosch improperly was hired in the first place and not subject to the committee’s purview, a change that Milosch has denied.

In addition, a Hastings aide said last week that the Florida lawmaker also had sought consent of the administrative panel to dismiss the aide, and clarified that request, along with other personnel matters, on the same date as the lawsuit was filed.

In a March 28 letter to the administrative committee — which includes Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Sens. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) — Hastings, citing a mid-March discussion by lawmakers, proposed the dismissal of Milosch, as well as another staff member.

Members had until close of business March 30 to object to any of the proposals. Although both Brownback and Smith previously had objected to Milosch’s firing in a February letter to Hastings, only Smith objected to the subsequent letter.

“I object to the hiring and fixing of pay of any staff persons (other than the chief of staff and deputy chief of staff) … until such time that the outstanding personnel issues … are resolved,” Smith wrote in a March 29 letter.

Following the commission’s standard practice, Brownback’s and Cardin’s failures to respond to the proposals were interpreted to mean they agreed with Hastings.

Neither Milosch nor the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, which filed the lawsuit on his behalf, would provide additional details about the pending agreement, stating that it has yet to be executed.

According to the March 28 letter from Hastings to the administrative committee, however, Milosch and a second aide will be dismissed from the committee April 13, and “will be offered the opportunity to resign and offered severance pay through April, assuming they choose to resign.”

Milosch submitted a formal resignation letter to the committee April 5 agreeing to the proposal.

While Milosch touted the pending agreement as a victory — “The suit forced [Hastings] to respect the statute,” he said last week — a Hastings aide countered that view, stating that the commission had discussed Milosch’s formal dismissal before he filed the lawsuit.

“Mr. Hastings said everything he’s done was done in accordance with the law,” said Chief of Staff Fred Turner. “He’s been proven to be accurate.”

The House General Counsel’s Office, which would represent the commission, has yet to respond in the lawsuit, but is expected to seek its dismissal as a moot argument if Milosch does not first withdraw his complaint.

In addition to Milosch and the other aide cited in the March 28 letter, two other aides recently have left the committee, with one retiring and another resigning. None of those individuals had asked to be included in Milosch’s lawsuit, according to his attorney.

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 commission, which is housed in the Ford House Office Building, maintains a professional staff of 18 aides, according to court documents.