State Representative Larry Clark, D-Louisville, has introduced a bill that would require city officials charged with an ethics violation to pay for their own attorneys.
Under the current system, Metro officials and employees can request a lawyer paid for by the city to defend them against an ethics charge. The new legislation would prohibit taxpayer dollars from being used in those cases.
Clark says citizens should not be funding the defense of ethics charges against local officials accused of violating the public trust.
“First and foremost, I don’t think it’s fair for the taxpayers to have to pay for a lawyer for those of us in public service. I think we should be held at a higher standard,” he says.
In the past three years, the Metro Council has been the focus of two high-profile ethics cases involving Democrats Barbara Shanklin and the late Judy Green. Both used the option to have their defense attorneys paid for by taxpayers.
The city spent over $68,000 for Green’s legal defense during the ethics hearing, and another $43,000 to prosecute the removal trial that ultimately led to her ouster from office.
As of December 2012, Shanklin’s defense attorney, Aubrey Williams, has billed the city over $70,000 in her ongoing case. The Shanklin case closed in November, and a decision by the city’s ethics commission is expected in March to determine whether she violated five sections of the ethics law.
Williams would not comment on Clark’s legislation, but told WFPL in a telephone interview that he has yet to submit billing to the Jefferson County attorney’s office from work he has done in January and this month.
“I estimate the cost will be significant,” says Williams.
The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission does not provide public funds for state lawmakers facing ethics charges, and a spokesman for the panel told WFPL that state officials have to hire their own attorney or represent themselves in those cases.
“Between the two complaints we’ve had so far we’ve already spent over $180,000 in lawyer fees,” says Clark. “It’s something a lot of my constituents have voiced concern about why they have to pay for a public officials representation. And I think right now we should not have to pay for anyone that has any violation against them.”