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Don’t let Proctor flip ‘rigid digit’ at state, ethics panel urged
Robert Proctor was a state ethics commissioner so briefly that he never got to attend a meeting. Even though he’s gone, commissioners were told today, he should not be forgotten.
Lameduck Mark Burkhalter appointed Proctor Jan. 11, the last day of Burkhalter’s week-and-a-half as speaker of the Georgia House before turning over the gavel to David Ralston. The 11th-hour selection drew fire almost immediately because of an old unpaid ethics fine, and Proctor resigned last week citing health reasons.
The Ethics Commission, which met today, is trying to figure out how to resolve the unpaid fine, one way or the other. Proctor has insisted he never received proper notice of the fine — although he acknowledged knowing about it — and therefore didn’t intend to pay it.
In doing so, Proctor is “essentially giving this commission and the citizens of this state the rigid digit,” Frank Moore, an attorney who has sparred with him in court, told the commission.
Moore cited the commission’s own investigative files, which show Proctor in 2004 challenged its authority to hold him accountable.
Records show Proctor told an investigator that he was, um, indifferent to the legal definition of a lobbyist:
I then asked if he was aware of the definition of lobbyist under [Georgia Code section] 21-5-70 — he stated that he didn’t “give a shit” what it said because he was not regulated by the 21-5-70 he is only regulated by the Supreme Court and the GA Association.
Told that former Attorney General Mike Bowers had issued an advisory opinion that lawyers must also register as lobbyists, records show, Proctor said “it didn’t matter because the AG is just another attorney.”
The commission ruled in 2004 that Proctor should have registered as a lobbyist when he pushed the Legislature to kill a bill that, he said, would have put his client out of business. Proctor represents Vesta Holdings Inc. and related companies that buy property tax liens and then collect, with interest and fees, from homeowners.
Vesta frequently winds up in legal disputes with property owners who say they were never notified that taxes on their property had not been paid.
For Proctor then to claim he was never properly notified of the ethics fine and order, Moore said, is the “height of hypocrisy” that “offends all notions of propriety.”
Moore noted that a violation of the Ethics in Government Act is a misdemeanor and called on the commission to pursue criminal prosecution.
The commission’s executive secretary, Tom Plank, has said the agency’s files contain no record to indicate whether the agency mailed the order or that Proctor received it.
The commission took no action today but instructed its staff to dig into the files to see whether other orders by the commission may not have been served.