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AP: Lockyer's office improperly hid contracts



The California Department of Justice improperly concealed tens of millions of dollars worth of contracts with lobbyists, consultants, legal firms -- even couriers and parking garages -- in violation of its own confidentiality rules, an Associated Press investigation has found. ...All the contracts reviewed were issued between 2003 and last year, when Bill Lockyer, a Democrat, was attorney general and headed the Justice Department. ... The Justice Department is the only state agency permitted to label records as "confidential" and omit them from the contracts database.

Officials at the department deny intentional wrongdoing, but apparently the marking of contracts as "confidential" became a real habit:

After initially refusing to disclose names of hidden contractors --the department said it would be too laborious to review so many -- officials agreed to inspect a sample of 131 contracts. The finding: only 12 were correctly labeled confidential. ... The results suggest hundreds and perhaps 1,000 or more of all the contracts labeled confidential could have received the designation in error.

Among the contracts wrongly classified as confidential:

--Two no-bid contracts, worth as much as $489,000, for Washington lobbyists The Ferguson Group. The president of the company, W. Roger Gwinn, was legislative director for former Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Calif., a Lockyer friend. The Ferguson Group referred questions to the Justice Department. The agency says the contract will not be renewed.

--A $2 million contract to the law firm Cotkin, Collins & Ginsberg, which has donated to Lockyer's political committees. Robert G. Wilson, managing partner, said firm officials were unaware the contract was labeled confidential. He said the firm began working on the long-running insurance case before Lockyer took office.

The W$J draws some conclusions about the importance of sunshine in remedying tendencies toward cronyism in the operation of AG offices, particularly in the hiring of outside law firms to sue defendants.

Update
: Lockyer responds to the WSJ's editorial in a Mar. 1 letter to the paper ($). He says the mistakes were inadvertent rather than an attempt to conceal anything, that the Washington lobbyist was selected in a competitive process and had obtained good results, and that the Cotkin, Collins & Ginsberg law firm had been hired long before he became AG and contributed very little ($750) to his campaign.

 

 


Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy
rmangual@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.