Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Developments On The Utah Ethics Reform Front

A glimpse into legislative leadership's heretofore "stealth" ethics reform package; and notice of an upcoming "ethics reform" topical public event

We'll throw out two more interesting items for discussion this morning, relevant to the Utah citizens' ethics reform movement topic which has occupied so many of our WCF pages of late:

1) As we've previously noted, legislative leadership has also gotten into the act, with its own dubious legislation, which is being hastily and stealthily drafted... mostly behind closed doors. So far the lumpencitizens haven't been privy to the full details of the "ethics reform package" which will ultimately emerge from the legislature during the 2010 general session; but the Standard-Examiner does provide an informative glimpse into at least part of what legislative leadership apparently has in store for us, with this morning's AP story:
Lawmakers' ethics proposal makes complaints secret
Surprise of surprises. Just as legislative leadership's proposed "ethics reform" legislation is being drafted "in secret," this mornings tidbit of information reveals that the ethics reform package contemplated by the legislature will be cloaked in plenty of secrecy too. Among other things, the legislature's version of "ethics reform legislation" would be subject to these rules:
• New rules being proposed by state lawmakers would prohibit members of the public from disclosing ethics complaints filed against legislators until an ethics commission determined a violation had occurred.
• Anyone who disclosed the existence of the complaint would be found in contempt of the Legislature, and that complaint would immediately be dismissed by the commission the legislation would create.
• The ethics commission would meet behind closed doors and all documents associated with ethics complaints would be private unless the commission came to a near unanimous agreement to forward the complaint along to a legislative committee.
• Complaints also couldn’t be filed for 60 days before a primary or general election, eliminating four months out of the year for the public to have their grievances heard in election years.
We urge all readers to check out Mr. Vergakis's above-linked AP story. We've incorporated only a few of the "low" points. Believe us, it gets much worse. One quoted UEG spokesperson concisely nails the rational opposition viewpoint, wethinks:
“I think it’s unacceptable. It’s a sham,” said Utahns for Ethical Government spokeswoman Dixie Huefner. “It appears very removed from public scrutiny.”
So what about it gentle readers? Is Senator John Valentine's Resolution 3 an insult to the transparency of the process AND to the citizens of the Beehive State? Or does the Senate President, Mr. Waddoups, have a valid point?
“I don’t believe anyone thinks it’s fair to have someone convicted by malicious allegations that have no basis in fact,” said Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville.
2) And while we're on the topic of Utah legislative ethics reform again, we're delighted to announce an upcoming related event. We've learned this morning that the Weber County Womens Legislative Council is hosting a topically-related open house:
What: Discussion of Pending Citizens' Initiative Petitions, Featured Guest Speaker, Michael Lee
Where: South Ogden City Senior Citizen Center, 580 39th Street
When: Tuesday, February 2, 2010 @ 7:00 p.m.
By way of background, Mr. Lee is a Utah lawyer, and an intra-GOP Party challenger for Senator Bennett's Senate seat.

We don't know whether Mr. Lee has a particular ax to grind regarding any of the pending citizens' inititiatives, but judging from past experience with WCWLC events, we'll anticipate some lively and unrestrained discussion.

That's it for now, WCF readers.

Who will be the first to comment?


Curmudgeon said...

In re: this --- Anyone who disclosed the existence of the complaint would be found in contempt of the Legislature, and that complaint would immediately be dismissed by the commission the legislation would create.

Being found in contempt is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

I'd be curious to know whether that could stand up to a constitutional challenge on first amendment grounds. Can the legislature enforce a fine and jail term to silence a citizen from revealing he has filed an ethics complaint with an independent ethics review board? I know judges can impose gag orders during trials, but under only limited circumstances, with the goal being to preserve judicial fairness. Can a legislature do the same to silence a citizen regarding a complaint filed with an independent body that has no power to sanction even the person the complaint is filed against should the independent ethics committee find merit in the complaint? I am not a const. atty, but I'd suspect not.

Any attorneys out there knowledgeable about first amendment law as it applies to "contempt of the legislature" matters who can clarify things?

althepal said...

Legislative leadership may have a good point, even though our moronic GOP Senate president (Dumb Mike Waddoups) doesn't express it accurately.

If you examine analogous situations with self-disciplining professionals (attorneys, accountants, etc.), ethics investigations are never made public during the investigative phase of the disciplinary action.

Reputational issues are particularly at stake here with elected politicians; and ethics violation charges should NEVER be aired in the public press before investigative agencies (an independant commission in this situation), complete their investigations and "press charges," in my opinion.

Curmudgeon said...


That the investigating panel should never make matters public until they've reached a conclusion I understand. My problem is with the legislature trying, with jail time and fines attached, to silence the citizen from even saying he has filed the complaint.

As for the Bar Association ethics procedures, etc., they do not I think have the authority to fine me or jail me if I let it be known that I have brought a complaint about an attorney to their attention for investigation. The legislature could silence its own members, with penalties attached, for breaking confidentiality after filing a complaint, just as say the Bar Association could sanction an attorney who went public with a complaint under investigation. But it could not sanction the client who originally brought the complaint to the Bar Association.

Government "prior restraint" powers on speech are very limited, and I have a hard time seeing how they would legitimately apply [with financial and prison sentences as sanctions] in this instance.

althepal said...

"Government "prior restraint" powers on speech are very limited, and I have a hard time seeing how they would legitimately apply [with financial and prison sentences as sanctions] in this instance."

Exactly right Curmudgeon...

And in that respect, "legislative leadership," [so-called] with their overbroad proposed legislationm again "over-steps!

"Imagine That!"

I do believe you coined that term on WCF.

au contraire said...

This is the bill on which the Ethics Committee has been working in open meetings all year.

catnip said...

Any attempt to enforce these "rules" with punitive action would be a violation of the first Amendment. The idea that these legislators are entitled to extra protection from public charges and exposure is ridiculous.

It we used that logic, no public information on charged criminals would be permitted.

Squirt said...

The culture warriors are at it again. "We must protect our brothers because we cannot have anyone thinking that our fellow culture members could possibly have the same failings as the rest of the human race."

Only in Utah!

viktor said...

Jail time for contempt for the legislature! What the hell is that all about? Hell, there are hundreds of thousands of people in Utah who have contempt for the legislature and rightfully so. There ain't enough jail space in all of the country to hold all of us! Besides, the bastards have damn well earned our contempt. So they earn it and we give it to them and then they want to put us in the slammer for giving them what they deserve? These guys are bat shit crazy, damn right I have contempt for them and a stretch in the slammer ain't gonna change that for sure. Most of them are a contemptible pack of peckerwoods in any book that's worth reading.

Pretzel said...

Viktor, well said. The clowns in the legislature enjoy all these perks and now they want special protection when they gather all their goodies from the lobbyists and special interest groups.

It is time the people stood up to this type of
behavior in government.

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