Gadfly Gene Stilp has wasted no time leaping into the spotlight now glaring on Senate Minority Leader Bob Mellow, who is accused of enriching himself at taxpayer expense.
Stilp, a failed lawyer and legislative aide, has made something of a career of picking at the wounds of scandalized lawmakers. In fact, thanks to Stilp's enthusiasm not only for filing ethics complaints, but for making a public spectacle of doing so, Pennsylvanians may now be treated to an endless parade of political candidates filing baseless ethics complaints against their opponents, then rolling out negative ads based on those complaints.
It probably never occurred to him there actually was a sound reason for the ban on publicizing complaints.
But we digress. If Stilp really is offended by ethical lapses by public officials, and not just addicted to the publicity that goes with complaining about them, he should be interested in an apparently serious ethical violation on the part of lawyers for the Office of Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett.
Rule 1.5 of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Rules of Professional Conduct is: "A lawyer shall not enter into an agreement for, charge, or collect an illegal or clearly excessive fee."
Corbett insists that the law firm of former Mike Veon Chief of Staff Jeff Foreman (who most recently served as counsel to then-Majority Whip Keith McCall) "was placed on retainer by [Beaver Initiative for Growth] for $4,000 a month at Veon's suggestion, but that the firm didn't do legal work justifying those payments."
It's hard to imagine that accepting such payments would not be a violation of Rule 1.5.
The bigger problem is that Corbett's team clearly believes Foreman committed this violation (since they based a huge part of their case against Veon upon it). Rule 8.3: "A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, shall inform the appropriate professional authority."
Part of the reason charges against Veon related to BIG were thrown out of court is that Foreman would not admit in court that he violated Rule 1.5. Regardless, if Corbett's team is convinced that he did, they are obligated by Rule 8.3 to report him.
Sounds like a situation that is just ripe for Stilp to exploit. The only problem is, the law requires that such complaints remain confidential. Without any publicity to milk, what's in it for Stilp?