Washington County attorney will represent supervisors
By DAVID HOTLE
Golden Triangle News Service
WASHINGTON — After conferring with two state legal officials, Washington County Attorney Larry Brock has rescinded his request that the county board of supervisors appoint a private attorney to provide legal advice for them and other county departments.
In an e-mail to county officials dated July 29, Brock said that he had initially cited a conflict of interest that would require his office to not represent the board or other county departments not headed by an elected official because of “an abundance of caution and in order to protect Washington County in the best way possible.” On July 23, he had requested the supervisors seek new counsel, citing a conflict of interest.
“However, after further research and consultation with the executive director of the Iowa County Attorneys Association (ICAA) and Assistant Attorney General Michael Bennett, it has been determined that, since my office’s duty to provide legal opinions or advice when requested to do so is directed to the board of supervisors and not to individual supervisors, there is no apparent or actual conflict between my office and the Washington County Board of Supervisors,” the e-mail said.
Brock said that his office is now available to respond to any requests for legal advice or opinions from the board and all county departments.
Tuesday morning, Brock said that during a conference call with Corwin Ritchie, ICAA executive director, and Michael Bennett, the group determined that there wasn’t an automatic conflict with the entire board due to a conflict with two board members. He said that a county attorney is responsible to the board of supervisors as one entity and not to the individuals who make up the board.
As the county attorney, Brock is required by code to give the board or county legal advice and opinions to the supervisors, elected officials and other county officials upon their request. He said if they don’t request an opinion, he would not be required to give them.
Brock still declined comment on the basis for the July 23 request. On July 24, Supervisor Ron Bennett announced during the regular meeting that supervisors Jack Seward Jr., and Robert Yoder, and their attorney Barbara Edmondson, the former county attorney, had filed an ethics complaint against Brock with the Attorney Disciplinary Board of Iowa.
Brock said that a supervisor filing an ethics violation against a county attorney is an unprecedented situation in Iowa. He said that whether to comment on the matter is a “gray legal area” and, while not forbidden by law, he has chosen not to comment on the matter.
While he did not comment on whether there would be a hearing, he said in his original e-mail requesting the board appoint other counsel that the issue could take over six months.
Charles Harrington of the disciplinary board said that all information about an ethics complaint is confidential He could not say that such a complaint has been filed or any particulars of the complaint.
Harrington said that lots of complaints are filed with the board and lots of complaints are dismissed. If a complaint is valid, he said the determination would eventually come out.
The Iowa Supreme Court has established procedures for addressing complaints about alleged unethical conduct by lawyers. The attorney disciplinary board is charged with investigating the complaints.
While there is no confirmation of the basis upon which the ethics complaint was filed, the county attorney’s office did file criminal charges against Seward and Yoder after the June 5, 2012, primary election.
When asked if he would be able to continue working with the supervisors, Brock said that the he would do his best to respond to requests and give his best advice.
“It is up to them what they want to do with it,” he said.
Note: Golden Triangle News Service reporter Linda Wenger contributed to this story.