making local government more ethical
Court decisions, especially when combined with criminal enforcement of ethics violations, can be very harmful to local government ethics. The court in a Monterey County case involving a serious §1090 conflict of interest matter that officials were not only aware of, but appear to have helped create, has used two recent California court decisions to limit prosecution to just one official. Recently, the official's last-ditch effort to dismiss the charges on the basis of an entrapment argument failed, according to an article in yesterday's Monterey Herald. In fact, a judge barred the official from calling anyone, including his colleagues, to testify in a preliminary hearing on the entrapment defense.

This blog has been closely following cases where the legislative immunity defense has been used in government ethics proceedings. This week, the same issue arose with respect to an open records proceeding in Wisconsin. According to an article posted on the Madison Isthmus site yesterday, Wisconsin's attorney general has argued in an open records proceeding that a state senator is immune from a suit based on the state's open records law throughout her term in office, pursuant to state constitutional provision Article IV, Section 15, which provides that members of the state legislature "shall not be subject to any civil process, during the session of the Legislature."

A poor and disconcerting judicial decision on local legislative immunity came down on May 24 from the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, Kickapoo Tribe v. Black.

The tribe made the argument in its brief that a watershed district board's members should not be able to raise a defense of legislative immunity when (1) two of them owned property in the project area under consideration by the board, and (2) board members participated in activities that made them appear to be seriously biased, including, with the aid of the Kansas Farm Bureau, lobbying trips to Washington, D.C., and letter writing campaigns to (a) convince local municipal and county governments to oppose the project, and (b) to sway public opinion against the project.

Last September, I wrote a blog post about the attempt by District of Columbia council members to block a subpoena by employing a legislative immunity defense. The case involves retaliation against a whistleblower who had alleged improper council input in the awarding of a lottery contract.

On Monday, the federal district court for the District of Columbia decided that the council members (one of whom is now mayor) are required to testify about matters relating only to retaliation. However, the basis for this decision was solely that "efforts to exhort" the executive branch do not fit under the D.C. legislative immunity law's definition of "legislative duties."

I did stop and and try to invoke legislative immunity, but the camera would have none of it.

—State senator Steve King of Grand Junction, CO, a career police officer, said jokingly about a red-light-camera ticket he received in Denver. He voted against banning red-light cameras in Colorado's municipalities. From an article in the Denver Post yesterday.
Below is the text of a talk I gave at the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws conference this week. Due to time limitations, I was not able to share this entire text, so even those who heard the talk may want to read this and see what they missed. For those who have been following my posts on legislative immunity, this talk not only brings together a lot of information, but also adds a section on how much of a misnomer "absolute" legislative immunity is.