Stuart Leeds Quits Ethics Commission
POSTED: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 - 6:51pm
UPDATED: Thursday, December 9, 2010 - 8:45pm
Stuart Leeds says he's resigning for ethical reasons.
"We're supposed to be regulating their conduct. Ethically or not, why are they sitting at the table with us telling us how to draft our rules?" Leeds said.
Leeds argues that the Ethics Commission cannot be run independently when all legal advice comes from the County Attorney's office, an entity that the commission could potentially investigate. One ethics expert agrees.
"We had an expert from Connecticut, Robert Wechsler, an expert on ethics, an Ivy League graduate of law school and he basically says to have the County Attorney be the legal advisor to our commission when our commission's mandate is to regulate the ethical conduct of the attorney's office, is a perversion. It's a conflict of interest," Leeds said.
The Texas Attorney General says that the County Attorney of El Paso County is required to represent the El Paso County Ethics Commission in all legal matters. He also states that the El Paso County Attorney cannot be divested of his duties against his will. Local attorney Mario Gonzalez disagrees.
"It has a built in conflict of interest. No lawyer should ever attempt to represent both parties to litigation, yet in this community that's exactly the prerogative that the County Attorney's office has given to itself. The Attorney General is not the final authority. He only offers an opinion. That's why they call it an opinion. It's not the law," Gonzalez said.
Leeds says that without an outside attorney, the Ethics Commission will never be able to function as it should.
"Tomorrow night at the Ethics Commission meeting, you'll see it's a foregone conclusion that they're going to accept the Attorney General's opinion and accept the County Attorney's office as the legal advisor. And I think shame on them for doing so," Leeds said.
We talked to County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal about Stuart Leeds' resignation.
She said, "I would not give legal advice if a complaint were filed against me or anyone in my office."
"I would step aside and ensure that a lawyer outside of my office provided legal advice."
Bernal added, "State law says that the County Attorney shall provide legal advice to all county officials."