Election Law

Attorney faces ethics complaint over 'sham' contract drafted in campaign-finance case

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A lawyer is now facing a legal ethics complaint for drafting what federal prosecutors in a case against a former Connecticut governor called a “sham” consulting agreement.

On Sept. 2, the grievance panel for the New Haven judicial district said it found probable cause that attorney Christian Shelton “knowingly participated with others in the preparation of a sham or bogus contract with the specific intent to deceive the public” about the fact that former Republican Gov. John Rowland was being paid to work on a political campaign.

A panel lawyer wrote in a Sept. 4 letter that the panel found probable cause to believe Shelton had violated two legal ethics rules, the Hartford Courant (sub. req.) reports. They prohibit conduct involving “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” and conduct that “is prejudicial to the administration of justice.”

Counsel for Shelton has denied that Shelton violated any professional conduct rules and said Shelton didn’t know the contract was illicit.

At issue in the case is paid political consulting work done by Rowland for the wife of Brian Foley. Lisa Wilson-Foley was seeking the local Republican nomination in 2012 for a seat in Congress. Shelton worked as general counsel for Brian Foley’s health care company, Apple Rehab.

The problem was, Rowland pleaded guilty in 2004 to corruption in office. He served 10 months, and because of his felony record was not viewed as a plus factor to be publicly employed by a company or a campaign, according to the newspaper.

In a June 3 letter, attorney Thomas Finn of McCarter & English, who is representing Shelton, told the grievance panel that it was Foley’s idea to hire Rowland as a consultant for Apple while Rowland worked as a volunteer on Lisa Wilson-Foley’s campaign. Foley asked Shelton to draft a contract, then left a company meeting.

At that point, Shelton and two company officers still present agreed it wouldn’t look good to have Rowland work for Apple, either, Finn explains, although it wouldn’t have been illegal or unethical for Rowland to do so.

“Thus, as Apple’s lawyer, Mr. Shelton proposed a completely unremarkable course of action—Mr. Rowland could be retained as an Apple consultant through Mr. Shelton’s office,” Finn wrote. The law firm paid Rowland with money from an “Apple-related entity” rather than Apple itself, Finn said, and “the structure of the agreement was entirely lawful and proper.”

But because campaign funding must be publicly reported, the arrangement fell afoul of election law. Foley testified that he never told Shelton that his hire of Rowland was a cover for Rowland’s work on Wilson-Foley’s campaign, Finn wrote.

Rowland, Foley and Wilson-Foley wound up with criminal convictions. Foley and his wife pleaded guilty to misdemeanors that required them to spend months, respectively, in a halfway house and a federal prison camp.

Foley was the chief prosecution witness against Rowland, who was convicted in a 2014 trial. He got 30 months in his second felony case, although the sentence is on hold while he appeals.

Finn said Friday that Shelton had fully cooperated with the ethics investigation and would continue to do so.

Any violation of applicable ethics rules would have to be proven by clear and convincing evidence.

Related coverage:

New Haven Register: “Ex-Gov. John Rowland gets 30 months; wife tells prosecutor, ‘Burn in hell’”

New York Times (reg. req.): “Judge Sends Rowland, Ex-Connecticut Governor, Back to Prison”

Hartford Courant: “Brian Foley Sentenced To Three Months In Halfway House In Rowland Case”

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