On Thursday, June 7, I authored this post about the potential conflict of interest involving Terry Keel’s simultaneous service as House Parliamentarian and partner in an Austin, Texas law firm. I received numerous comments and emails disagreeing with my position. At the time, some suggested that Speaker Craddick never intended to hire Keel as the permanent Parliamentarian, that this was only a part-time hire to get the Speaker through the end of session. By now you know that’s completely wrong, as Terry Keel is the House Parliamentarian.
According to the press release issued by the Speaker’s Office on Friday, June 29:
“Today, Speaker Tom Craddick (Midland) announced Terry Keel will permanently fill the position of House Parliamentarian. Mr. Keel had been appointed by Speaker Craddick on May 25th and has continued to perform the duties of the office on a part-time basis.”
While the press release validates many of my initial points, it also creates even more disturbing questions (like why the Speaker’s Office waited until late one Friday afternoon to drop this bomb – ala President Bush announcing the “commuting” of Scooter Libby’s 30-month prison sentence in a similar Friday afternoon media dump). Not exactly the pomp and circumstance of a Rose Garden press conference heralding a monumental and significant policy achievement.
If Mr. Keel was by Speaker Craddick’s side for the final days of session, and on June 29 he gets named the permanent Parliamentarian, what was Mr. Keel doing between May 28 and June 29?
We have obtained documents from Speaker Craddick’s office that prove Keel was working for Speaker Craddick on or before May 30, 2007. Most Capitol staffers know that a form gets filled out for their ID Card – it’s appropriately named the ID Card Request Form. On May 30, 2007, Steve Adrian (the head of the House Business Office – and a fine, decent, professional public servant) requested an ID Card for Terry Keel, for the Office of Speaker Tom Craddick. The form indicates that Keel was to be given “Building Access”, “Walk-In Purchasing/Supply Privileges”, and “Fax/Photocopy Usage Privileges”. The form is signed “Per Steve Adrian” and dated “5/30/07”.
Terry Keel was given an ID Card after session ended – almost a full month later the Speaker announces late on a Friday afternoon that he has been hired full-time. There are not a lot of “non-employees” walking around the Capitol who have house ID cards granting them the access to the building and the ability to buy supplies and make copies, at taxpayer expense no less.
Way more below the fold...
Since there is relatively no doubt that Keel has been working in the capacity of a state employee since May 25, 2007, and since we know by the Speaker’s own press release that Mr. Keel is the permanent Parliamentarian, we have to once again raise the issue of potential conflicts of interest. Is it appropriate for the House Parliamentarian to moonlight and run a private law practice on the side?
Gardner Selby of the Austin American Statesman got the following quote from Mr. Keel on this issue just a few days ago.
"If someone wants to purposely get themselves arrested and then hire me, good luck on that one," Keel said Friday.
While some might think that’s a cute sound bite, it’s extremely misleading. Getting arrested has never been a prerequisite for hiring a criminal defense attorney. It seems like once a year Tom Craddick has reason to hire Roy Minton, for example. In addition, is Mr. Keel suggesting the only type of case he will ever take is a criminal defense case? I don’t think he has limited himself to only representing criminal defendants in the past.
To my knowledge, Sgt. Michael Olsen (a Keel client, according to the KVUE story was not “arrested” for shooting and killing Kevin Brown in East Austin last month, yet he apparently hired Mr. Keel.
Austin Police Sgt. Michael Olsen, who shot and killed Kevin Brown, 25, after a foot chase in East Austin early Sunday morning, visited the scene Tuesday where it all happened. Olsen spent about half an hour at the shooting scene with the new members of his defense team. He is now being represented by Terry Keel and Jason Nassour, who have had success in representing officers involved in high profile cases.
So, Mr. Keel’s sound bite rings a bit hollow.
Secondly, when a valid point of order gets called on a bill next session that would negatively affect Sgt. Olsen, or other police officer clients of Mr. Keel’s (for example, any bill regulating police conduct, or punishing police brutality, or restricting the use of deadly force), how will Mr. Keel rule? Will he wear the hat of criminal defense attorney and do what is right for his client, or will he rule on the merits of the point of order?
Thirdly, what happens when Mr. Keel has a case against the State of Texas? How can he simultaneously have a duty to a client who is adverse to the State of Texas when his $140,000/year paycheck is coming from the State of Texas?
And finally, when Rep. Harold Dutton calls a point of order that Mr. Keel sustains next session, how will the author of the bill that got killed have any confidence that Mr. Keel was acting as Parliamentarian and not in his capacity as Rep. Dutton’s criminal defense attorney?
Again, I ask, how is it not a conflict of interest for Mr. Keel to simultaneously serve as House Parliamentarian and run a private law practice?
I’m not aware of any previous Parliamentarian doing this. If anyone has any proof that previous Parliamentarians maintained law practices (or any sort of professional income-producing business) while serving as Parliamentarian, please bring it forward. It is my understanding that previous Parliamentarians (Denise Davis, Steve Collins, Sharon Carter, Bob Kelly, etc…) did not moonlight outside the Capitol. And why would they? At $145,000/year, it ain’t a bad gig.
According to our friends at the Dallas Morning News, Parliamentarian Keel will be paid, “$145,000 a year, the same salary Denise Davis was making when she quit as parliamentarian last month.”
And, apparently, that’s just his day job…