Archive for Friday, February 5, 2010

Kansas lawmaker calls for resignation of House speaker for leading lawsuit against state

February 5, 2010, 10:30 a.m. Updated February 5, 2010, 1:01 p.m.


— A Democratic legislator called Friday for Kansas’ Republican House speaker to step down because he is representing businesses, trade groups and insurance funds in a lawsuit against the state.

State Rep. Marti Crow said Speaker Mike O’Neal has a conflict of interest on legislation affecting any of his 17 clients in the lawsuit. Both Crow and O’Neal are attorneys.

“He has created a situation where he can’t lead this body,” Crow, a Leavenworth Democrat, told The Associated Press. “I don’t know how he can carry out his duties.”

O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, called Crow’s assertion “ludicrous.”

“If I got up in the morning worrying what the Democratic Party was up to, I wouldn’t get much done during the day,” O’Neal said.

The lawsuit, filed last month in Shawnee County District Court, challenges a financial maneuver used by the state last year to help erase a budget shortfall.

O’Neal already has faced strong criticism from the Legislature’s two Democratic minority leaders, Sen. Anthony Hensley of Topeka, and Rep. Paul Davis of Lawrence, who consider his involvement in the lawsuit improper. They’ve also suggested he stands to make hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees at the state’s expense, which O’Neal says is not true.

Crow has complained about O’Neal’s conduct before. Last year, she filed a nepotism complaint with the state ethics commission because the House Republican caucus hired O’Neal’s wife for a staff position. The ethics commission dismissed the complaint, saying the evidence did not show O’Neal was involved in the hiring.

“Gosh, Marti’s at it again,” said House Majority Leader Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican. “We seem to play a lot of gotcha politics here.”

The lawsuit attacks the Legislature’s decision to confiscate unused funds in various accounts set aside for specific regulatory purposes and divert them to general government programs, such as education and social services.

O’Neal’s clients paid fees deposited in special accounts that had $5 million swept out of them. The lawsuit argues the state exceeded its regulatory authority and imposed an unauthorized tax on businesses and individuals paying into the special accounts.

The lawsuit seeks to reverse last year’s action and prevent similar moves in the future.

“I realize that, for a time, it will be not the merits of the suit, but the guy who filed the suit, that gets the press,” O’Neal said.

Most of O’Neal’s clients are industry workers’ compensation funds. The sweep of an Insurance Department account led that agency to impose additional fees on them.

Other plaintiffs include the Kansas Bankers Association, the Kansas Realtors Association and a Wichita company doing business as Speedy Cash.

Crow said all the plaintiffs could have a stake in a wide range of legislation. For example, restaurants and bars oppose a proposal to restrict smoking statewide.

“He is the one who controls what happens on this side of the Capitol for legislation,” she said.

Democrats also have speculated that O’Neal would receive at least 30 percent of any returned funds if the Legislature’s action is reversed — $1.68 million or more.

O’Neal said he’s being paid by the hour, at less than his usual rate. He declined to release further details. He also said that before filing the lawsuit, he reviewed Kansas ethics laws and spoke informally with the state office that handles complaints against attorneys.

“I’ve practiced law now close to 40 years, and I do it ethically, and I don’t do anything without checking the rules,” O’Neal said.


Centerville 8 years, 3 months ago

Agreed. Anyone (Speaker, Agency Secretary, KNEA Directors) using tax money to lobby or sue the government for more tax money should resign.

1southernjayhawk 8 years, 3 months ago

I don't care if O'Neal is an R, D, or otherwise, this is just plain wrong. He should put his responsibilities as an elected representative of the state of Kansas above his personal desire to receive fees to litigate against the state. If he cannot do that, he should be removed from office immediately.

1southernjayhawk 8 years, 3 months ago

Beobachter, this does not have any thing to do with being a Republican and you are simply revealing your bias. Should he just ask himself what John Edwards might do in this situation?

Thinking_Out_Loud 8 years, 3 months ago

Centerville, the Speaker isn't using tax moneys to sue for more tax moneys. He is accepting money from various corporations to sue the entity of the State of Kansas. I haven't researched this well enough to know quite how this financial maneuver went, whether it was legislated or executively ordered. However, given his role as a legislator and his additional role as a legislative manager, the potential for conflict of interest is high whether or not an actual conflict exists. For example, if Rep. Crow were to introduce legislation that would affect the way the State instructs the Attorney General to defend this case, the Speaker would have an immediate conflict of interest. I would submit that his decision-making process on this issue was flawed, and continues to be so.

pace 8 years, 3 months ago

The Kansas Republican party has been confused for a long time. They think they are working for the corporations. Oh, I am confused, they ARE working for the corporations. Being a Kansas legislator, there is no conflict of interest, their only interest is in the welfare of corporations.

Bob_Keeshan 8 years, 3 months ago

The Speaker of the House is not just suing some amorphous entity called the State of Kansas.

The Speaker of the House is suing his colleagues. His beef is with the budget bill that passed last session with 64 votes in the House.

Speaker O'Neal is suing those 64 House members for their vote. He voted no, and he is suing those who voted yes.

That's an awfully dangerous precedent to be setting. If you don't get your way on legislation, just sue the prevailing side...

Richard Heckler 8 years, 3 months ago

Marti Crow is on the money. O'Neal should resign.

Any attorney should be able to identify a conflict of interest.

“If I got up in the morning worrying what the Democratic Party was up to, I wouldn’t get much done during the day,” O’Neal said. VERY VERY LAME REPSONSE

pace 8 years, 3 months ago

So Vanguard has no trouble with the leader of the house doing monkey shines . If he wants to sue let him, he should resign his position, then there would be no conflict.

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