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King: No conflict of interest

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — State Attorney General Troy King said there was no conflict of interest when his staff represented then-Secretary of State Nancy Worley in lawsuits at the same time it was conducting an investigation that led to criminal charges against her.

Worley, a Democrat, has repeatedly complained that the Republican attorney general did a poor job of representing her in civil matters and pursued the criminal case simultaneously to help her Republican opponent, Beth Chapman, and make himself look better.

While Worley was secretary of state, King’s office represented her in a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department that accused her office of missing the deadline for implementing a statewide voter registration database. Worley repeatedly complained that King wasn’t following her wishes when King asked a federal judge to transfer the database responsibilities to Republican Gov. Bob Riley, who had appointed King attorney general.

That transfer became an issue in her re-election campaign, which she lost to Chapman in November.

King’s staff also represented Worley in lawsuits filed over five state Senate races last year. Worley was sued in her role as the state’s chief election official.

Worley complained about King’s representation throughout the cases and even told a judge at one hearing that she wanted to represent herself because the attorney general had refused to let her hire a private lawyer at state expense to represent her.

At the same time, King’s staff was investigating a complaint against her filed by a member of her staff. The complaint concerned a letter she sent to state employees under her control about her re-election campaign.

Using evidence provided by the attorney general’s office, a Montgomery County grand jury indicted her in mid-March on charges of using her official position to seek campaign funds or assistance from five of her employees.

King said there was no conflict on his part because state law gives the attorney general both civil and criminal responsibilities, and those civil responsibilities include representing state officials when they are sued.

Operate independently

King said his civil law staff and his criminal staff operate separately. “We weren’t gathering information in the process of representing her that was used in the criminal investigation,” King said.

When King does have a conflict in a case, he said he can direct a county district attorney to take over an investigation, but he said there was no need for that with the Worley investigation.

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, a Harvard-educated lawyer from Birmingham and a Democrat like Worley, saw problems with what King was doing and wrote U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez last year to raise concerns.

Montgomery lawyer James Anderson, who was Worley’s private attorney during the criminal investigation, said a private lawyer can’t represent a client in one case while suing the same person in another case.

State law

He said state law does give the attorney general both civil and criminal responsibilities that have to be carried out simultaneously, but after Worley made an issue of King’s representation, it “would have been a better practice” if the attorney general had let her bring in outside counsel for the civil suits.

Robert Kuehn, a University of Alabama law professor who specializes in legal ethics, said that while he is not familiar with the details of Worley’s cases, it is clear that top government attorneys — both at the state level and at the Justice Department — have dual civil and criminal duties and are in a different position than private lawyers when it comes to conflicts.

Tony McClain, general counsel for the Alabama State Bar, said the organization has not weighed in on anything the attorney general’s office has done. But at first glance, he doesn’t see a conflict.

In the suits against Worley, she was sued in her official role as secretary of state. McClain said that’s legally significant because the office was being sued, not Worley as an individual.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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