Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Short Treatise on the Topics of "Conflicts of Interest" and "Separation of Powers"

A little free legal advice from one well-respected local legal practitioner

Fine guest commentary in this morning's Standard-Examiner, responding to Sunday's Scott Schwebke story, wherein Boss Godfrey unleashed his latest cry-baby temper tantrum in the public press, concerning the Ogden City Council's recent practice of employing private counsel for second opinions and in "conflict of interest" situations.

While Sunday's article provoked a fairly robust discussion here on Weber County Forum, our discussion was nevertheless slightly oblique. Whereas we merely nibbled around the edges of the ethical principles necessitating employment of independent counsel in certain instances, this morning's editorial piece squarely addresses the "conflicts" and "separation of powers" principles which are regularly violated when our city council relies upon Boss Godfrey's lawyers for the drafting of documents and ordinances, and in the rendering of legal opinions. For a well reasoned and concise nutshell legal treatise on the subject, be sure to read Deb Badger's most excellent morning guest editorial, which, as an added bonus, also makes a cogent and highly persuasive argument for the council's employment of permanent in-house staff counsel:

"City council needs independent legal advice"

A Weber County Forum Tip O' the Hat to to local barrister Deb Badger this morning, for going public on a topic we've been hammering with various council members for years.

22 comments:

on the inside said...

Everyone but Boss Godfrey gets it! An excellent “Commentary” by attorney Deborah Badger, who explains in simple, plain language why the Ogden City Council needs independent outside legal advice. Hopefully Godfrey will be able to understand it, but I wouldn’t count on it. Last night during “Comments” of the Council Meeting, Councilwoman Jeske asked Godfrey if there were two different rules that applied to the Council and to the Mayor because after his comments at their work meeting objecting to the Council going to the media before telling him, Channel 13 had him telling about his objection to the Council “wasting taxpayer money by hiring outside legal advice.” His reply was, “We talked about it.” Incredible! You can do whatever you want just as long as you tell him ahead of time! I wonder how he explains signing the contract with UTA to use the federal funds for a gondola corridor study without telling the Council? I guess he “didn’t have time to inform them.” That was his reason for not telling them about changing the authority of the RDA during the last hours of the last Legislative session.

Ms. Badger very explicitly explains why a City attorney cannot represent two entities with differing points of view. Maybe Ms. Jeske needs to cut it out and send it to Godfrey with that part highlighted. When she told him at the work session that she had been told by an assistant city attorney that the legal department would be happy to help with her with any legal questions or issues unless the Mayor was involved with an opposing view, then they would be representing the Mayor. Godfrey told her that he didn’t believe her! Maybe he will now. Like I said, “Everyone but Boss Godfrey gets it!”

Kudos to Ms. Deborah Badger for her excellent commentary.

knows people on the inside said...

One of the reasons Godfrey created the justice court was so he could remove Ashton and Lockwood from the city attorney's office without too many questions being asked. Lockwood, in particular, used to do a good job of advising the city council without simultaneously representing the mayor's interests. Now she's setting fines for traffic violations. The council was left crippled when she became a judge.

With Ashton and Lockwood gone, Godfrey has installed newcomer Gary Williams as city attorney. Williams is part of Godfrey's inner circle and has no loyalty to the council whatsoever. (Except to Blain Johnson, whose law firm he used to work for.)

Monotreme said...

Good job, Ms. Badger.

Bill C. said...

It's not that lying little matty doesn't get it. He does, but his typical practice and believe is that the public is so stupid and disengaged that he repeats lie after lie and many actually swallow it whole. He may be right regarding the general public, after all, most would like to believe that their elected officials are honest and that there would be severve consequences for bold face lying to the public. After all, why is our country currently fighting 2 wars, neither of which have a clear definition of what will constitute winning. That is unless you have a fortune in oil or defense contracting.
How about that incidious Rob Bishop? Basically on the payroll of the literal devil of Utah corporate evil doers. Has everyone forgotten that this bunch used to go by the name of Envirocare? Why do we even tolerate there exsistence in this state?
Lying little matyy gondola godfrey has made quite a success of preying on the the stupidity and lack of attention on the part of the general public.

been there said...

Excellent editorial Deb. Be careful how and where you park your car, your probably on Godfreys' hit list now.
He will harrass you with petty tickets and fines.

tell the truth said...

Deb,
Your my kind of people. the ones that like to stand up for what is true and right. Thanks again.

Curmudgeon said...

Fine op-ed piece.

Of course Godfrey doesn't think separation of powers is an important governmental principle, and of course he thinks all power should be in the executive branch. He's a Utah Republican.

OgdenLover said...

Maybe the CC could hire Ms Badger! She has worked for other local governments and is therefore eminently qualified.

i "git it" said...

Mayor Godfrey has such a warped narcissistic personality that he doesn't even "git it" as to how his comments come out.

lionel said...

Curmudgeon

I think you are wrong on with your comment - ".......he thinks all power should be in the executive branch. He's a Utah Republican."

It has been my observations that Utah Republicans only think the power should be in Republican hands - regardless of whether it is executive or legislative. They are big hogs you know. Of course this is mitigated by the Republican legislators, most of whom don't believe the people or the Executive branch should have much say in things.

Al said...

Sit at the Second District courthouse for a while and you will see that virtually any time Ogden City is involved in court proceedings there is an outside attorney involved. I would assume that these legal representatives are not technically Ogden City employees and provide services on behalf of Ogden City administration without the Ogden City Council being aware of costs involved or even the topic of legal discourse.

I wonder how many taxpayer dollars are spent on outside legal assistance for the Mayor and his administration each year.

george k said...

Al, EXCELLENT POINT! I hope someone on the Council follows up on it. The Council does receive monthly updates on five of the many lawsuits against the City. A number of them involve the administration. A couple of years ago at a work meeting, Rep. Neil Hansen was explaining his proposed legislation that would have impacted the City had it become law. Godfrey sent three of his top goons, Harmer, Patterson and Johnson, to do battle with him. Hansen brought up the subject of the Woodbury lawsuit and how much it had cost the City. Harmer said that Woodbury hadn't sued the City, the City just paid them the money they owed them sooner than they had planned. Jeske said that the lawsuit had cost the City $5 million, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars of interest because the Mayor would not talk with them, and Harmer's 2nd-grader reply was: "So?" And the City pays him more than $120,000. a year for such brilliance!!

The Council definitely needs to find out how much is spent on outside legal a year.

dan s. said...

It's my understanding that the city has some sort of "insurance" to cover lawsuits. I don't know the details, but I would assume that this is how outside lawyers are paid. I have no idea whether it covers settlement payments.

Still, all the insurance would do is smooth out the ups and downs of the legal expenses over time. The higher our legal expenses are in one year, the higher our premiums must be in the next year. Ultimately, it's all the taxpayers' money.

Can someone on the inside fill us in on exactly how the insurance works, and on how much we pay for it?

Fly on the wall said...

It depends on the type of case that is in court as to where the representation comes from to help the City with legal battles.
I know that the City has or is a part of the Utah Risk Management Association (URMA, and that they use their attornies quite frequently.
The City also is a member of the Utah League of Cities and Towns, I am not sure if there is any legal coverage benifit to the city through that nazi organization.

But I do know URMA has provided legal attornies through the premiums that the city has paid to them.

dan s. said...

The Utah Risk Management Mutual Association seems to focus primarily on personal injury claims and such, but they also offer coverage for "public officials and errors and omissions" and I suppose that could be pretty broad.

The Utah League of Cities and Towns is primarily a legislative lobbying organization; I don't see anything on their web site about legal services.

I approve these comments said...

"know people on the inside", you got it right.

City Attorney Gary Williams has allegiance to only Mayor Godfrey.

That was most evident in his refusal to even request for and look at the campaign papers of Matthew Godfrey. Gary Williams by looking at Godfrey's records could have made the election an open honest election. Now there will always remain the question of what an investigation would have revealed.

Dorothy Littrell has been a forensic CPA since 1956 and those of us who know her know that she does not make frivilous charges.

Dorothy Littrell filed a dozen GRAMA requests with the Ogden City Recorder pertaining to the improper and incomplete filing by candidate Matthew Godfrey.

Based on the Ogden City Municipal Election Code she repeatedly requested that the Ogden City Recorder and Ogden City Attorney Williams obtain Godfrey's records and audit them to look at her charges.

City Attorney Gary Williams refused to obtain Godfrey's records or to inspect them per the Ogden City Municipal Code. His was the sole decision that prevented the discrepancies in Godfrey's filing requirements from becoming public knowledge and changing the results of the Ogden City municipal election.

You can draw your own conclusions as to where Ogden City Attorney Gary Williams' allegiance lies.

Gary Williams is also the person who made sure that Godfrey won the election.

disgusted said...

i defend the right that the city council has to having their own council.
im not sure that the outside council that they have chosen has a much different view from that of godfrey when it comes to developers or the interputation of utah law relative to ordinances pertaining to city government.
as i recall he is a very active member in the Utah League of Cities and Towns and wasn't willing to defend councilwoman jeske's research that provided an accurate interputation of the law pertaining to the powers of the city council to alter city ordinances that would have taken powers away from the mayor when it came to land sales.
his passion is with developers and those that help developers.
he may be a wolf in sheeps clothing that godfrey is using to validate his actions as being within the law when at a later date this outside council agrees with godfreys ability to take a specific action to the council.

Curmudgeon said...

Disgusted:

You wrote: I'm not sure that the outside council that they have chosen has a much different view from that of Godfrey when it comes to... the interpretation of Utah law relative to ordinances pertaining to city government.

When a city agency hires attorneys in such matters, it hires them [or should] to provide their informed opinion on the law regarding whatever matter is at issue. Unless the city agency is run by fools, it hires attorneys with particular expertise in the area of law they are asking them about. A city agency should not go shopping to find attorneys that will docilely tell it what it wants to hear. Hiring attorneys because they will give you the advice you prefer to get, and will tell you what it is you want to hear, is a very good way to lose a lot of expensive cases. Ask the School Board of Dover, PA how that works.

dan s. said...

disgusted,

As I said in a recent thread, the question of whether the city council can have any direct control over land sales is a difficult one. Last year I consulted a Salt Lake attorney about the "restrictive covenant" document that the mayor drew up just before the election. The attorney raised the issue of whether the council would have to approve putting encumbrances on a piece of property. That got us into a side discussion of whether state law permits the council to have any direct control at all over city property. The attorney initially thought the answer was yes, but as he researched the matter, it became much less clear. If anyone would like to help with pursuing this research further, please contact me.

Incidentally, I wish the city council had run that restrictive covenant document by their outside attorney. I'm sure their attorney would have said the same thing as the three independent attorneys whom I and other citizens consulted: the mayor was lying when he said the document would protect the land "in perpetuity". While the council had no direct power over what the mayor was doing, they should have informed themselves about its legality and played a role in educating the public about this highly deceptive move on the mayor's part.

danny said...

Jeske noted that Utah code was changed recently to allow the CC to approve of land sales. The CC just doesn't want to take up the issue.

It doesn't help that a bunch of out of touch lawyers keep spouting the mayor's nonsense and can't even keep up on the laws.

dan s. said...

danny,

Are you calling me a liar? I've spoken to a very good Salt Lake attorney who is on our side and who probably knows more about this issue than anyone in Ogden. When he researched the issue he discovered that it's not as simple as you're claiming (as he had previously thought himself). To make the case that city councils in Utah can take direct control over real estate transactions, one would have to do some serious legal research and carefully document the arguments that the council would use to defend itself if there were a legal challenge. If you'd like to help with this research, please contact me privately and I'll tell you where to start.

dan s. said...

danny,

Following up on the last comment: I've received a phone call from someone who has already done the next bit of research that I was hoping someone would do. Turns out this research wasn't very helpful. There's still more that could be done, if anyone is interested. Again, the situation is difficult and it's really a question of whether anyone has the resources and the dedication to put up a fight in the courts.

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