Lawyers Need Ethics Rules? Next, You’ll Be Telling Me that Used Car Dealers Do, Too

The Virginia State Bar, the body that regulates state attorneys, wants to erase an ethics rule “that for a half-century has prohibited the state’s legislators from being employed alongside lobbyists at the commonwealth’s largest law firms,” reports Michael Shear at the Washington Post. Virginia’s rule is stronger than that of many other states, where lawmakers and lobbyists do work for the same law firm.

But the idea is opposed by some within the General Assembly, such as Del. Clark N. Hogan, R-Charlotte, who say it could create conflicts of interest for lawmakers and lobbyists employed by the same firm, and would accentuate the perception of the legislature as a good old boy’s club “where deals are cut behind closed doors instead of in public committee rooms.”

Writes Shear:

Pressure to eliminate the rule in Virginia was sparked in part by Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, who recently joined the law firm of Hirschler Fleischer P.C., a Richmond-based firm with a small lobbying presence. Without the proposed change, Deeds would be violating state ethics rules.

Deeds, who describes himself as a small-town rural lawyer, said his losing bid for attorney general in 2005 made it nearly impossible to keep his small practice alive. His plans to run for governor in 2009 will require a more stable income, he said. But he said there will be a firewall between himself and the firm’s lobbyists.

The initiative comes at the same time that Roanoke attorney David Nixon has accused two state senators — Thomas K. Norment, R-Williamsburg and Kenneth W. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach — employed by Kaufman and Canoles, Norfolk’s leading law firm, of conflicts of interest relating to their influence over eminent domain legislation.

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3 responses to “Lawyers Need Ethics Rules? Next, You’ll Be Telling Me that Used Car Dealers Do, Too”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Zero comments on this in 24 hours? This is actually a fairly big deal, and the Virginia State Bar should be stopped cold and reinstate the bar rule. The idea of a legislator profiting (as a partner) from lobbying income is the very soul of corruption.

    The problem is the massive consolidation in the legal field, and the very real challenge a lawyer-legisltor has making a living outside of the major firms. We don’t want a legislature with no lawyers and we may already have reached the point where there are too few. The non-lawyers on the courts committee are routinely out of their depth.

    But the solution is to compensate legislators better. They got their last raise so long ago that about the same time, the gas tax actually went up (1987)! Raising their pay from $18,000 to $40,000 would be a blip in the state budget but would allow a legislator with a part-time and often interrupted law practice to afford to serve.

    Of course, that will never happen, and the silly salaries are one reason so many silly people are now serving, with more on the way.

  2. NoVA Scout Avatar

    Agree in principle with previous post. The Bar rule is a good one, even if more rigorous than other jurisdictions. It is unseemly that a legislator would profit monetarily from lobbying activities, even if undertaken by others with whom he is in partnership. I’m a bit surprised that Creigh Deeds fell into this snare. He is, by repute, a good lawyer and no doubt could have found a profitable association with a firm that does not engage in lobbying.

    Re the commenter’s point that compensation should be raised: If I really thought raising the compensation would drive out the large number of less-than-impressive legislators who populate the General Assembly, I’d be willing to pay them $100 Large a year and check a box on my state tax return to pay a little extra for that purpose. But the goofballs would probably stay on, at least for a few cycles until capable people were attracted. There are, fortunately, a few GA members who are there because of public service commitments. Not nearly enough, sadly. Some of them (Joe May comes to mind) don’t need the money. But raising compensation is worth a shot to raise the level of these office holders. Otherwise you end up with too many who can do little else in life.

  3. E M Risse Avatar

    The only long term solution is Fundamental Change in goernance structure.

    Only a meaningful, rewarding role in shaping society will attract the public leadership that is needed at the nation-state, regional and community levels. (“States” may or may not have a useful long-term role, they do not given the current borders.)


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