JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Once again Councilwoman Kelly Stewart has broken ranks with the rest of the City Council to support Mayor Mike Bodker’s veto of the council’s resolution to waive attorney-client privilege in the ongoing investigation of allegations against the mayor.
She also has stated she does not support the mayor’s investigation, and she brought forward a resolution to amend the ethics code (see related story) that would have allowed the members of city boards and commissions to weigh in on public issues – such as the mayor’s investigation – as a regular citizen. As it is, they must resign their position to “reclaim” the right to speak out. None of this has endeared Stewart to the other five council members.
“With the questions raised by the legal opinion the mayor’s attorney has raised, I have withdrawn my support of the waiver until we get an independent opinion,” Stewart said.
It turns out, the city already had its independent opinion. When the mayor sought out a law firm for advice on the effect of a waiver of attorney-client privilege, it was at the recommendation of City Attorney Bill Riley, and the cost is on the city’s nickel as well. The Buford law firm of Carothers and Mitchell LLC was the one that provided the recommendation that the waiver be given some scope as to time and subject matter. Without that, the attorneys said the city could be exposed to some danger that it is giving up all its attorney-client privilege.
The reason for the waiver is to allow the city attorneys to talk freely with the council’s investigator, Robert Wilson.
At the Aug. 5 City Council meeting, Stewart said reading the mayor’s veto and its warning that an open-ended waiver with no restrictions and no specified dates could backfire against the city’s interests.
“What concerns me most is we don’t know what we’re waiving here. This is just a blanket waiver that could lead where I don’t know. So that was one thing that bothered me about this,” Stewart said.
Wilson answered the council’s questions on the veto saying that it was only natural that another lawyer would voice concerns, but that there is no case law cited because none exists.
“This a case where the client, that is the city, is asking one set of lawyers to talk to its other lawyers. They all a work for the same client,” Wilson said.
Clients of the same firm even are reluctant to discuss their cases among themselves. The waiver was more for their peace of mind than any real legal requirement for the waiver.
“Attorneys stand behind a curtain with their client. We are another set of attorneys standing behind the same curtain on the same side. There is nothing in the waiver that lets anyone else behind that curtain,” he said.
Bodker said he held to the other attorney’s opinion, and given the potential risk to the city, the waiver could have been made more specific and still accomplished the council’s goals.
“I never said they shouldn’t talk to anyone that might be involved in the investigation. I am confident they will not find anything. But I do think this has the potential risk as stated from an independent legal source. I think that they could find a more secure way to perform their work in a way that does not have risk or waste tax dollars in the process,” Bodker said.