Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ethics Reform and Government Contractors; Let's Not Leave Out the Law Firms

Today's Indianapolis Star features an editorial by Jason Barclay, an attorney for Barnes & Thornburg, applauding the ethics agenda of Governor Daniels. Certainly Governor Daniels ethics reforms are a move in the right direction, though I would question whether the particular Inspector General he appointed has sometimes allowed partisan considerations to interfere in an honest, even-handed approach to enforcing the Ethics Code.

Having said that, I can't help but note the irony of an attorney from a large Indianapolis law firm that makes millions off of providing legal services to the City of Indianapolis among other government entities talking about the need to isolate decision-makers from the contractors soliciting business from government. Large law firms have a history of making contributions to candidates then walking away with large contracts for legal services after the grateful candidate proves to be successful in the election. Then the taxpayer money received for the legal services, are kicked back to the elected official in the form of more contributions.

While all the large firms do it to some degree in Indianapolis, no firm does it more than Barclay's very own Barnes & Thornburg. The conflicts of interest and lack of independence resulting in the domination of Barnes & Thornburg on the current city administration, from top to bottom, is disturbing. It is the albatross around the neck of Mayor Greg Ballard that will not only doom his re-election chances, but will assure that the Democrats control the council for years to come. No one is going to pay a bigger price than Marion County Republicans who want to win in 2011 and beyond.

I take Mr. Barclay at his word though and invite him to join me in reforming how law firms doing City of Indianapolis does business. Quoting from my column "Fleecing of Taxpayers by Big Law Firms," I make suggested reforms in how law firms do business:
"[A] reform agenda should include the support of a requirement by the Mayor and the Council that any law firm contracting with the city or county official have their contracts put on-line for review. Further, the actual bills submitted by the law firms need to be made public and scrutinized by an outside body, not just elected officials beholden to the law firm which is kicking back money to the politicians...."
Taxpayers have far too long been fleeced by the outrageous legal bills submitted by local law firms, who are not coincidentally big contributors to the elected officials with whom they are contracting.

In addition, while we are on the subject of legal ethics, I would also like to invite Barclay to support another reform, the inclusion of an anti-SLAPP provision in privatization contracts, which provision would penalize those government contractors who hire big law firms to aggressively target private individuals who dare to speak out about whether those contractors are complying with their contracts and the law. No one doing business with the State should be permitted to go after a private citizen in such a fashion. My proposal on the anti-SLAPP legislation can be found here. Law firms with an opportunity to take such a case, need to learn to say "No." There ae some things people, and law firms, should not do no matter how much money is placed on the table.

Those are real reforms that will make a real difference in how contractors interact with government. Let's hope Jason Barclay is sincere in his efforts for real ethics reform and will support the proposals.

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