Gessler gets sensible about moonlighting

Although it took considerable public criticism and undisclosed advice from the state attorney general, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler finally made the right decision: He has abandoned plans to work part-time for his old law firm, which frequently represents clients on election-related cases that come before the secretary of state.

Gessler said his decision not to moonlight with Hackstaff Law Group was based on the fact that people would be clamoring for him to disclose who his Hackstaff clients would be.

“I cannot, in good conscience, expect anyone to subject themselves to public scrutiny merely because I am doing some legal work for them,” he declared.

Well, disclosure certainly could be an issue. But the much larger problem — the one for which so many people objected to Gessler’s plans to moonlight with Hackstaff — was the potential for real or perceived conflict of interest. Would a client Gessler represented receive special treatment before the secretary of state, even if he didn’t represent them in election cases? That’s the reason people argued that Gessler would have to disclose his clients.

Gessler paid scant attention to the potential for conflict of interest when he announced he was abandoning his plans to work part-time for Hackstaff.

So be it. He can give whatever reason he wants. At least he gave up the idea that was fraught with potential problems, both for him and the secretary of state’s office.

However, Gessler suggested this week he still might try to find part-time work with another law firm that doesn’t do so much elections-related work. That would be a mistake, because there would still be demands he disclose his clients to ensure there was no conflict with his state duties.

We have far less problem with his statement that he might seek a part-time college teaching position as Attorney General John Suthers has done. The potential for direct conflict with his official duties would be far less in that case.

It’s worth noting that none of this might have come to light until much later — when Gessler was in the middle of a case where a real conflict of interest presented itself — if the Denver Business Journal hadn’t revealed Gessler’s moonlighting plans late last month.

We’re certainly glad the Business Journal did so, and we’re relieved that Gessler ultimately reversed himself regarding those plans.


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