Headlines trumpeted state Inspector General Elizabeth Archer‘s latest findings a few weeks back: “State’s ethics lawyers blasted for outside work.” “State attorneys ran private firm on public time.” “Moonlighting Ethics Commission lawyers violated state policies.” But look closer at Archer’s investigative files, as I did, and you’ll find fairly flimsy evidence behind some of her conclusions. Some “findings” are artfully worded to suggest impropriety without explicitly saying so. Not only that, there’s no sign that her office informed one of the attorneys of a key issue or asked for an explanation.
The other shoe dropped Tuesday at the State Ethics Commission, as the agency’s lone remaining full-time attorney resigned. Tom Plank, a lawyer there since 2007 and the agency’s top administrator earlier this year, quit to take another job. Colleagues said Plank dropped off his resignation letter and left without saying what that job would be.
A whistleblower who accused state ethics lawyers of misconduct was herself fired over allegations of fraud and dishonesty. Jennifer L. Ward, budget and HR administrator for the State Ethics Commission, was dismissed in November for allegedly failing to drop an ex-employee from the payroll and stating that she fabricated salary figures to help her old boss get a pay raise. Ward denies wrongdoing and claims her new boss canned her for complaining to others about his private law practice.
Two attorneys for the State Ethics Commission improperly used public resources to operate their private law practice, Inspector General Elizabeth Archer has found. Attorneys Yasha Heidari, who resigned in April, and Tom Plank used state-issued computers to research clients’ cases and abused sick leave, she said, and they created a potential conflict by representing a business operated by a man who offers his services as a lobbyist, a profession regulated by the ethics commission. UPDATE: The Ethics Commission said today it will implement the inspector general’s recommended remedies immediately and will “take appropriate action” after reviewing the findings regarding Plank.