An indictment filed in federal court earlier this week against former New Jersey State Senator Wayne Bryant highlights the need for stronger state ethics regulation, including strict financial-disclosure requirements for legislators with part time law practices -- in New York. As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the indictment alleges that the former senator received $192,000 in retainer fees from a Bergen County Law firm, which were actually bribes in exchange for support of the development projects for clients of the firm. New Jersey's ethics laws require financial-disclosure statements of legislators, spouses, and minor children, in which they must disclose “personal loans, business interests, addresses and description of property owned, as well as the names of all paid or unpaid offices and board positions held.” Furthermore, legislators are prohibited under state law as well as the Legislative Code of Ethics from “participating in legislation in which they have a personal interest.”
As in New York, however, a loophole prevents the legislator-lawyers from having to disclose their financial interests when they represent clients.
ReformNY has previously blogged on this subject and the New York City Bar found that there is no basis for claims by legislators with part time law practices that the attorney-client privilege entitles them to a blanket exemption from disclosure and reporting.
We hope that the incident in New Jersey will renew interest in pushing for ethics reform in our own state which includes client disclosure requirement for attorney-legislators.