Legislation & Lobbying

Ex-Legislator's Indictment re Law Firm 'Retainer' Fees Spurs Call for Ethics Reform

Critics are calling for ethics reform, following news of a claimed bribery scheme. It was allegedly conducted under the guise of legal fees paid by one New Jersey law partner to a counterpart at another law firm who also happened to be a lawmaker and chair of the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Lawmakers are required to disclose income, and then-Sen. Wayne Bryant did disclose that he earned money as a partner of Zeller & Bryant. But he didn’t reveal–and wasn’t required to reveal–that the firm received $192,000 between 2004 and 2006 in “retainer” fees. They were from development-related clients of another law firm, which is now known as DeCotiis Fitzpatrick & Cole, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Although disclosing the identity of clients implicates attorney-client privilege concerns, there are ways to resolve that issue while still requiring lawmakers to disclose important financial information, says James Browning, He serves as a regional development director for Common Cause.

“A big potential perk of being a lawmaker is the ability to steer business to your law firm or yourself or friends who are lawyers,” he tells the newspaper “It’s a constant temptation. If you had disclosure, even just to the ethics commission, that would make people think twice.”

Details of the case against Bryant and attorney Eric Wisler are discussed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post:

Law Firm’s $8K Monthly ‘Retainer’ Payments to Another Law Firm Were Bribes, Indictment Says

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