New rule for Democratic lawmakers: Don’t talk to feds without your GOP lawyer present

We have an interesting kerfuffle underway at the state Capitol. That’s the word first used to describe it to me. Kerfuffle.

It will take some explaining.

The first thing you have to understand is that Anne Lewis, a partner in the law firm of Strickland Brockington Lewis LLP, has been involved with GOP redistricting matters for many years.

It is one of the reasons she was named general counsel to the Georgia Republican party, replacing Randy Evans.

The second thing you have to understand is that Lewis, general counsel to the state GOP, was hired this summer by the General Assembly in toto to oversee the legal aspects of the special August session of the Legislature, which was dedicated to redrawing the political boundaries for the state House districts, the state Senate districts, and 14 congressional districts.

Now, this did not mean she was everyone’s lawyer. When House Democratic Leader Stacy Abrams questioned Lewis about redistricting details, the General Assembly’s attorney explained that she couldn’t speak to Abrams, who herself is a lawyer. In part, from Lewis’ letter:

Under the Rules and Regulations of the State Bar of Georgia, this representation is analogous to a corporation in which corporate counsel represents the entity as opposed to individual shareholders. To the extent shareholders have questions, those must be directed to the appropriate corporate officers who decide which questions to pose to corporate counsel. Those same rules apply here.

The third thing you have to understand about Lewis, general counsel to the state GOP and attorney for the General Assembly in toto, is that she is now also special counsel to Attorney General Sam Olens. The state has filed a lawsuit insisting that the lines drawn by the General Assembly be approved, and that the federal oversight mandated by the Voting Rights Act come to an end.

Despite that last demand, the maps were also submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice for the required federal approval. And DOJ officials have begun contacting lawmakers who think the new maps should be rejected.

But in the last few days, Lewis, under the authority of the last of those three hats, has informed Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike that she is now, in fact, everyone’s lawyer.

And they may not speak with Justice Department officials without her presence.

The lawmakers who have been ordered into silence include members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who prefer their own legal representation, Atlanta attorney Emmet Bondurant. Who sent Olens a written objection.

The state of Georgia’s pursuit of an end to federal oversight of its election laws is antithetical to his clients’ interests, and poses a huge conflict of interest for any attorney who intends to represent both the state and the African-American lawmakers, Bondurant wrote in a letter that can be seen here. Another point:

There is also a very serious question whether representatives of your office may have violated Rule 3.4(a) by “unlawfully obstructing another party’s access to evidence” when they instructed [Abel Gomez, DOJ’s lead counsel] that neither he nor any other lawyers with DOJ, would be allowed to interview the African-American members of the General Assembly without the presence and participation of someone from the Georgia Attorney General’s office.

Republican lawmakers have also been included in the restriction.

State Rep. Mark Hatfield, R-Waycross, was one of the few Republicans in the General Assembly who voted against the House map – which placed him in a district with state Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine.

Only a few weeks earlier, Hatfield and three other GOP lawmakers – Spencer among them were handed “Off the Reservation” awards at a House GOP caucus dinner, for casting the fewest votes with the House leadership. There is some speculation that the two events are linked.

Updated on Friday: Spencer called said he had a conversation with DOJ investigators on Thursday, with Lewis listening in. Spencer says he a) told his interrogators that he felt intimidated by Lewis’ presence and b) reminded them that, six years ago, Lewis testified before Congress in favor of preservation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

This week, Hatfield said he had a “lively conversation” with Lewis on the matter of his future interviews with the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Essentially, they are claiming that we are their clients in our official capacity as representatives. And that they are not agreeable to talk to the Justice Department without them being involved because we could say something that could be used against the state,” Hatfield said.

“I think what she’s doing is wrong. She’s trying to obstruct legislators access to speak to federal officials. It’s not just a matter of being a state representative. I’m a citizen and a taxpayer in this state. And I’ve got a right to contact a federal official in a federal agency about a matter of public concern just like any other taxpayer,” Hatfield said.

Like Bondurant, Hatfield – though he is a Republican — pointed to Lewis’ many hats. In particular, her position as general counsel to the state GOP.

“That’s a significant conflict when you’re general counsel for an organization that has as its agenda a desire to bring about a particular political result,” Hatfield said.

For now, Justice Department officials have told Hatfield and others that they will let the state of Georgia have its way – pointing to a tight deadline.

The Waycross lawmaker said he will not speak to Justice Department officials with Lewis on the line. Which may be just fine with many people in Atlanta.

Abrams, the House Democratic leader, said her members can’t afford to boycott the process, and so will allow Lewis and other state attorneys to listen in.

Late today, Olens released a letter addressed to Bondurant that explained the state’s position. It’s that darned parallel court case, the attorney general said. (If only it hadn’t been filed.)

Read Olen’s letter here. In part:

The pending interviews raise the specter of the DOJ interviewing Georgia officials, purporting to speak on behalf of the State of Georgia, without the State being given any knowledge whatsoever of the contents of those conversations and at a time when the State and the DOJ are opposing counsel in on-going litigation, which is the very subject of the interviews.

It is that situation which gave rise to the request to permit the State counsel to be present during the interviews. The State does not intend to participate in the questioning of witnesses and, in fact, for the interviews that have already been conducted, counsel for the State has not done so other than to clarify when it appeared that there was a misunderstanding of either a question or an answer.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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76 comments Add your comment

Jeff Pruett

November 17th, 2011
5:01 pm

RetiredSoldier

November 17th, 2011
5:08 pm

This is an over reach by Lewis and Olens. I’m sure they will come to their senses shortly as they are wiping a bit of egg off their face.

One interesting point Jim, you write “And DOJ officials have begun contacting lawmakers who think the new maps should be rejected.”
Is DOJ contacting anyone that thinks the maps should be approved? Just a thought.

taxpayer

November 17th, 2011
5:10 pm

Centrist

November 17th, 2011
5:20 pm

It sounds reasonable to the Justice department as quoted above: “Justice Department officials have told Hatfield and others that they will let the state of Georgia have its way.”

It sounds reasonable to “Abrams, the House Democratic leader, said her members can’t afford to boycott the process, and so will allow Lewis and other state attorneys to listen in.”

And Olens’ statement seems reasonable: “The pending interviews raise the specter of the DOJ interviewing Georgia officials, purporting to speak on behalf of the State of Georgia, without the State being given any knowledge whatsoever of the contents of those conversations and at a time when the State and the DOJ are opposing counsel in on-going litigation, which is the very subject of the interviews.

It is that situation which gave rise to the request to permit the State counsel to be present during the interviews. The State does not intend to participate in the questioning of witnesses.”

But, of course, partisans like Mr. Jim Galloway and his band of liberal posters here will see sinister motives.

Republicans control the Governorship, House, Senate, and the redistricting process. Democrats are not going to get any major changes – even with a politicized U.S. Justice department. They might force some minor changes, but not behind closed doors if Republicans can help it.

Simple politics.

Curious Reader

November 17th, 2011
5:23 pm

Wow. So, this is the legislature’s jobs program-create such a mess that attorneys from far and wide will be called in to sort this out. Now if they can get the rest of us jobs that would be wonderful.

Toes the Line

November 17th, 2011
5:24 pm

Even King Roy was never this drunk with corrupt power.

honested

November 17th, 2011
5:32 pm

What a crock!

I am glad not to be a legislator or a member of the GrandObstructionistParty/ToolsEnablingAristocrats.

I have submitted my Constituent Letter to the Justice Department in objection to the ‘repug land grab’ and if Ms. Lewis wants to listen in on any requests the DOJ might have she knows what she can kiss!

honested

November 17th, 2011
5:35 pm

centrist (of the alternative universe)

How you can read the article and divine your ‘reasonable’ notion on the heels of the ‘all or out’ redistricting fiasco is beyond comprehension.
Were you paying attention when the GrandObstructionistParty held meetings around the state to gather VOTER input, and then put all that input into the trash only to listen to the voices in their heads?

hiram bronson granbury

November 17th, 2011
5:41 pm

Centrist

November 17th, 2011
5:20 pm

“It sounds reasonable to the Justice department as quoted above: “Justice Department officials have told Hatfield and others that they will let the state of Georgia have its way.”

You may have misinterpreted the DOJ’s motive. I think they are saying, you’ve made your bed, now lie in it. In other words, this administration has pretty much written Georgia off. As TD, who represents the viewpoint of the majority of Georgia’s voters, so eloquently stated, “I will take a good ole country bumpkin any day of the week”.

Martin Williams

November 17th, 2011
6:08 pm

Jim, again, after the 60 minutes program on 11/13/2011 nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to politics in this great country of ours. Oh Jim tell my Tea Party friends that the United States of America is going to build a brand new military base in Australia as China is getting stronger economically. Talk about spending…..Ron Paul is right again.

findog

November 17th, 2011
6:14 pm

Corporations are people
The state is a corporation
Corporations have constitutionally protected free speech rights; unless the corporation is a republican run state then it only has partial free speech rights, for the republicans
Makes perfect sense to me…

findog

November 17th, 2011
6:19 pm

Gee Retired Soldier the only reason for review is for those who feel their constitutional protected right to be fairly represented at the ballot box to come forward during discovery. I think you get to answer any allegations of wrong doing are lodged and deemed to possibly have merit. Ergo cart and horse reference.

Don

November 17th, 2011
6:21 pm

“The pending interviews raise the specter of the DOJ interviewing Georgia officials, purporting to speak on behalf of the State of Georgia, without the State being given any knowledge whatsoever of the contents of those conversations and at a time when the State and the DOJ are opposing counsel in on-going litigation, which is the very subject of the interviews.”

This is NOT reasonable. You don’t think that the DOJ understands that these are individual representatives? It is absolutely ludicrous to suggest that anyone thinks that these representatives are speaking for the state.

History Will Teach Us if We Will Learn

November 17th, 2011
6:23 pm

Centrist again represents the John Birch Society altered view of a liberal behind every bush. All the aforementioned representatives can testify as private citizens and not in their official capacity if they so choose. If in fact the redistricting is legal the Republican caucus has nothing to fear from any legislators views official or unofficial. The truth is an absolute defense of any argument.

heartofdarkness

November 17th, 2011
6:45 pm

It is comforting to know that the hallowed tradition of gerrymandering, which has bestowed such fruitful bounty on the politics of this country, will remain an opaque province of politicos with one overriding objective, the perpetuation of their august posteriors in public office.

Alabama Communist

November 17th, 2011
6:45 pm

More Breaking News On Super Republican Fascist Corporate Poltical Party Lawyer… A Source deep within the Republican Party said today..” We have finally did it and now control the total legal system in the State Of Georgia with one big lawyer..”

Logical Lawyer

November 17th, 2011
7:09 pm

There is no legal conflict under the State Bar Rules, nor any unethical conduct. Mr Bondurant knows this, Ms. Lewis knows this, as does AG Olens and Rep. Abrams. Draw your own conclusions as to the motives of those complaining that the federal government should continue to enforce the Voting Rights Act when there is no longer any evidence to support its continued application to the State.

Shine

November 17th, 2011
7:53 pm

I hope the DOJ tells the House speaker and other GOP scum to stick those south Ga gerrymandered maps up their rears!

rudikkingme

November 17th, 2011
8:49 pm

History teach deserves credit for the irony implicit in his liberal behind every bush bit. Shine deserves credit for his consistent thematic approach using words like “shine” and “up their rears”.

Jim Galloway needs to consult with Luckovich to simplify these very complicated narrations about what this lawyer did or said and what laws are confounding our social and political progress.

So far, nobody has “gotten” it.

td

November 17th, 2011
9:07 pm

Shine

November 17th, 2011
7:53 pm
I hope the DOJ tells the House speaker and other GOP scum to stick those south Ga gerrymandered maps up their rears!

It does not matter what the DOJ says because the state bypassed the Obama DOJ and took their maps straight to the Federal courts. The Republicans know better then to play with Holder (the DOJ will not investigate any voting rights cases perpetrated by African Americas) and his current racist department.

Michael

November 17th, 2011
9:25 pm

I have only been a lawyer for 18 years so I clearly lack the knowledge and experience to understand why an attorney can order/require the “client ” not to discuss things with whomever. But I don’t do that corporate stuff and evidently our legislature is now a corporation. It probably has rights, too.

Mike H.

November 17th, 2011
9:42 pm

You who deride the GOP and its redistricting process as being somehow patently unfair to the African minority and other Dimocrats of GA are too young (evidently) to remember the decades and decades when the Dimocrats rammed their redistricting down the throats of the few Republicans in state government. Now that the GOP is trying to balance the districts they are vilified and damned. But, that’s par for the course for the Socialists.

rudikkingme

November 17th, 2011
10:04 pm

ANd Mike H can bite the wind out of dead donkey’s a-hole. the dimming of america starts with the education fund that any rightwingnut supports: like zip. Here’s Mike H’s platform: “GOP: 2012; no schools. no RX. no roads. no freedom. The Right of the Reich compels me: Hitler only failed cause of the Jews”.

moron

td

November 17th, 2011
10:10 pm

rudikkingme

November 17th, 2011
10:04 pm

Typical far left wing attack. If you are not intelligent enough to debate your philosophy or you know you have lost the point then you attack the messenger.

hiram bronson granbury

November 17th, 2011
10:39 pm

td said…

Typical far left wing attack. If you are not intelligent enough to debate your philosophy …. “I will take a good ole country bumpkin any day of the week”.

Ralph

November 17th, 2011
10:54 pm

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

double

November 18th, 2011
1:34 am

I thought all the legislature was Lawyers.And Ralph you are correct,that is why we never want a monopoly. A good mixture gives better government.

double

November 18th, 2011
1:42 am

TDs rotten constitution,religion thing of past,now he will take a good ole country bumpkin any day of week. ————————————–

Joe Wilson

November 18th, 2011
1:47 am

When did Georgia become a Communist state? Republicans passed voter ID and now they drew the district lines to ensure that they stay in power forever. The Communists always held elections and required people to vote. The only party allowed to run in the election were Communists. Republicans decided to only allow Democrats to hold office in majority black areas. The GOP has become totally corrupt.

Smoke

November 18th, 2011
6:04 am

If it is reported GOP has done something highly extraordinary and contrary to their stated philosophy, is it really a far left wing attack or a self inflicted wound?

Corporate Officer

November 18th, 2011
7:10 am

Hey Ms. Anne Lewis, and the rest of you power hungry WASP rednecks, Corporations pay their bills with their money. Your paycheck comes out of my pocket! That makes me one of “your” corporate officers, and as such I say, “sit down and shut-up.” You had your play at the map, now let’s see if it holds water under the scrutiny of impartial review.

Smoke

November 18th, 2011
7:10 am

If you practice criminal and corporate law, does that qualify one to be an expert on the constitution?

rawmilkdrinker

November 18th, 2011
7:11 am

Just one reason to show why the republicans weren’t in charge for 150 years after the War!

Ol' Timer

November 18th, 2011
7:24 am

“When ignorance gets started it knows no bounds.” ~Will Rogers

Smoke

November 18th, 2011
7:25 am

Georgia has been an aristoractic state for generations. The City of Atlanta liberal elite fueled the shift from agriculture to industry, and the rural elite have never forgiven them for attempting to change the “southern” way of life. Why else would peons vote against their own else interests?

Smoke

November 18th, 2011
7:52 am

Aristocratic State. A small screen Blackberry strikes again. When I watch the “town’s people” on black and white westerns, they remind me of today’s Dixiecrats.

Smoke

November 18th, 2011
8:00 am

It is a far left wing attack that Cain is running for POTUS, and Dixiecrats are voting to make pizza a vegetable. The FLW really have to work hard to make this stuff up.

Smoke

November 18th, 2011
8:11 am

Sidebar: Liberals proposed $3T in spending cuts and $1 in tax increases to reduce the debt. Neo-Cons propose $2.5T in spending cuts only and claim the Libs are unwilling to compromise. Did I miss something in the translation?

honested

November 18th, 2011
8:15 am

One can only hope that the Courts and the DOJ will do us all a favor of reminding what passes for ‘leadership’ in this state that declaring they are above the law and appropriate review does not make it so.

honested

November 18th, 2011
8:18 am

Smoke,

Yes, and I just heard the doomed representative Barrow speaking in support of the wrong-wing ‘balanced budget amendment’ on the radio from last evening.

When one sells out one’s constituency, apparently confusion is quick to take over.

[...] concerns. – Here is a handy guide for the start dates of Sunday alcohol sales. – Jim Galloway reports that legislators, including Democrats, are not allowed to talk to the Department of Justice without [...]

Rabbit

November 18th, 2011
8:49 am

Legislators are elected officials and leadership has no power to control them. Mounds of legal precedent support the position that elected officials, unless required to do so by laws affecting state security, are independent actors.
The legislature as “corporation” idea for representation is flawed as well. I can’t imagine a situation where the majority party could able to cram a lawyer down on the minority party.
Power is an elixir. I actually didn’t think the new AG would drink it so fast.
Somebody needs to go back to law school.

Stacey is so smart!!!!!!!!

November 18th, 2011
8:51 am

Stacey Abrams is the smartest peson ever in Georgia politics. Just ask her and she will tell you.

Rabbit

November 18th, 2011
8:51 am

Legislators are elected officials and leadership has no power to control them. Mounds of legal precedent support the position that elected officials, unless required to do so by laws affecting state security, are independent actors.
The legislature as “corporation” idea for representation is flawed as well. I can’t imagine a situation where the majority party could able to cram a lawyer down on the minority party.
Power is an elixir. I actually didn’t think the new AG would drink it so fast.

James Madison

November 18th, 2011
8:57 am

My founding father buddies are rolling in their grave – laughing just to keep from crying.

objective

November 18th, 2011
9:18 am

this is a no-brainer. if a legislator wants to be represented by ms. lewis, they can. if not, they’re not obligated to. they can use their own lawyer. it will turn them into a whistleblower of sorts, but that’s the risk and option. what’s sad is that while some legislators may just want to be honest with the DOJ, they seem to have a healthhy fear of being retailiated against- as voiced by ms. abrams. it’s just sad sad politics that honesty is not the best public policy

cartoon

November 18th, 2011
9:23 am

The real danger here lies in the convoluted explanation. Simmer this down to the level of the voter and maybe someone will understand it.

and that’s just a natural borne fact, jack

Intown

November 18th, 2011
9:36 am

Democratic lawmakers should just ignore Lewis’ request. What is she going to do?

td

November 18th, 2011
9:48 am

It appears to my that Speaker Ralston, as a Republican, is attempting to bring some discipline to the house in the same manner as Speaker Murphy, as a Democrat, did for his 40 odd years as speaker. I am quiet sure Murphy forced the Republicans to use the “House lawyer” in the same manner as Speaker Ralston is now. I know that not even the Governor dare cross Murphy or there would be h3ll to pay. Ralston is just trying to gain the same type of control.

td

November 18th, 2011
9:51 am

Intown

November 18th, 2011
9:36 am
Democratic lawmakers should just ignore Lewis’ request. What is she going to do?

She will not do anything but tell Ralston and then you can make dang sure that that Representative will not have any of there legislative agenda ever see the light past committee and all of there “Special” money request for their district will not ever appear.