Aron to Take Leave From Board, Attorney Says; Arrangement Would Allow Jailed Suspect to Keep Seat but Not Participate in Decisions

Ruthann Aron’s attorney said last night that the jailed Montgomery County politician will take a leave of absence from the county’s influential Planning Board.

The move would preclude Aron from participating in any board action without forcing her to relinquish the seat. It would still, in effect, leave a vacancy on the five-member panel, which makes key decisions on Montgomery County zoning and land-use matters.

Aron, 54, is being held without bond in the county jail on charges that she tried to hire a hit man to kill her husband of more than 30 years and a Baltimore lawyer who once represented people in a lawsuit against her. A grand jury is scheduled to hear the case against her next week before deciding whether to indict her on two counts of soliciting murder. Defense attorney BarryHelfand said he will send a letter to County Council President Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County) citing what he called a case of “severe major depression” and Aron’s confinement in the county jail as reasons for taking the leave of absence.

Reading from a draft of a letter he planned to have Aron sign last night, Helfand said that she will not be active on the Planning Board “until we all have a better understanding of the extent of her mental problems and until her legal status is more certain.” Helfand said that Aron already had agreed to take the leave but that he wanted her to approve the wording of the letter. Since her arrest on June 9, the County Council has met twice in closed session to try to determine what to do with her position.

To remove her from the $18,500-a-year seat, to which she was appointed in 1992 and again in 1996, the council would have to show cause and hold a public hearing. Sources have said some council members want to avoid the spectacle of a public hearing.

It was unclear last night how the council would respond to the letter or if Aron’s declaration would have any effect on the council’s course of action. According to council sources, the lawmakers will wait until an indictment is issued before taking action on the matter.

Yesterday evening, council member Isiah Leggett (D-At Large) said he believed a leave of absence would still leave a vacancy on the Planning Board. That creates the possibility of tie votes that could stall board action, and it could present other problems when other board members are also unavailable for meetings. “It does not solve the problem because, as I read the law, we would have no authority to fill the position with a replacement,” Leggett said. “And I believe that is something the council would want to do.” Law enforcement officials charged that Aron attempted to pay $20,000 for the killing of her husband, urologist Barry Aron, and Baltimore lawyer Arthur G. Kahn. On the day of her arrest, Ruthann Aron, wearing a disguise, allegedly dropped off at a Gaithersburg hotel a $500 down payment for the killing of her husband.

Prosecutors said Aron told an undercover officer whom she believed to be a hit man that she might carry out the killings herself if she did not find someone to perform the tasks. In her car, police found books on how to make firearm silencers and some of the components to do so.

They also found a variety of firearms at her Potomac home, including an assault rifle equipped with laser sight, folding stock and flash suppressor. The news of her arrest shocked Montgomery County’s political establishment. Aron, a millionaire, staged an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 1994. She planned to run for a seat on the County Council next year.