making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler
Update: October 16, 2009 (see below)
In his New York Times legal affairs column today, Adam Liptak focused on what is known as "honest services fraud," which is actually part of a definition of "scheme or artifice to defraud" in the federal mail and wire fraud statute (before reading on, please read my earlier blog post...
Robert Wechsler
How can a lawyer responsibly deal with the following situation? A former city attorney, he has been general counsel to the city's sports authority, which oversees three major sports with three stadiums (and there's talk of a fourth, which the lawyer has publicly supported). The lawyer is also special counsel to the city's transit and port...
Robert Wechsler
When I heard about the ACORN sting, when two people posing as pimp and prostitute asked for help in getting a loan to open a brothel, I thought: what would happen if a local government official and a prostitute visited a local government attorney to ask for help in giving the prostitute a contract, so that the local government, rather than the official, could pay for her services?

One big difference is that it is not legal to open a brothel, but it might be legal to use your...
Robert Wechsler
Many local government ethics codes define a conflict of interest as existing only when an official stands to receive a financial benefit from his or her action or inaction. But real and perceived conflicts exist even when there is no financial benefit to an official. Important examples include benefits to relatives and business associates, where the official only benefits indirectly, while others benefit directly.

According to...
Robert Wechsler
A new argument has been made in the legislative immunity part of the case against a Baltimore council member who is now the mayor. In a memorandum to dismiss a new indictment (attached; see below), filed on September 8, the mayor has argued, on pages 3-10, that testimony by someone who attended events which the mayor attended in her legislative capacity cannot be used against her.

This is an interesting extension of the argument that legislative immunity prevents any evidence to be...
Robert Wechsler
One of the most contentious topics in local government ethics is prohibition vs. disclosure of gifts to officials. As with so many government ethics issues, the best answer is both, but reaching the best answer requires a thinking outside the box, along with a sincere interest in ending pay-to-play, in this case, the use of gifts as a way to reward officials for past or future conduct.

One example of such thinking outside the box comes from City Ethics' own Carla Miller, the...