Monday, July 4, 2011

Lawyers who are legislators face conflicts

legislators with law practices to disclose the names of clients they represent in matters before the state. California and Washington have similar laws.

"You want to know that your legislators are independent, and knowing who their clients are outside of government, and their sources of income outside of government, is part of that story," said Gregory G. Ballard, a lawyer who helped write a report on disclosure requirements for the New York City Bar Association. "The public should be entitled to know those kinds of facts."

Lawyers have fought such requirements, arguing they violate attorney-client privilege. But New York's bill allows legislators to petition a panel if they want to keep a client's name private - for example, to protect a victim of domestic violence.

In Massachusetts, Senator Steven A. Baddour, a Methuen Democrat, has been relatively open about disclosing potential conflicts. Until earlier this year, he was the chair of the Transportation Committee. At the same time, he was doing legal work for construction and paving firms with state highway contracts.

In one of at least six disclosure forms he has filed, he revealed that he helped one of his clients, Methuen Construction Co., get a meeting with the Massachusetts Highway Department. The firm's owner, who is a friend, wanted to get on the department's list of prequalified bidders for construction work, he said.

But Baddour said he did not have a substantive conflict between his law practice and his legislative duties.

"In no case did I represent any of those entities before MassHighway or any state agency," he said. "The representation was not state-related."

Representative Garrett J. Bradley, a Hingham Democrat, similarly disclosed that his law firm was handling workers' asbestos claims at the same time he was considering workers' compensation legislation. His guiding principle, he said: "When you're in doubt, disclose it."

By Michael Levenson, Globe Staff

Source: The Boston Globe


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