Yikes. This story was sent to me under the heading of “Most Unbelievable Ethics Flub Ever.” I don’t know about that, but to paraphrase Tommy Lee Jones says in “No Country For Old Men, “If it ain’t, it’ll do till the ethics flub gets here.”
Neosho City Council Member Steve Hart objected to the fact that a constituent in the small Missouri town was given a ticket for driving a lawn mower on the public street. In a conversation surreptitiously recorded by Neosho City Attorney Steve Hays, he tried everything from threats to verbal abuse to accusations of corruption to bully Hays into dropping the charge.
The highlight of the conversation, though there are many candidates, is probably this gem from Hart:
“You know how we are. Just become our little bitch , city attorney. Do a good job, and everything will be fine.”
“Make it go away. I’m telling you now, make it go away,” Hart says, more than once.
“I will not allow myself to do that,” replies Hays.
“It’s the right thing to do,” says Hart.
“The right thing to do is treat him the same as I do everybody else,” Hays responds.
“He should’ve never got a ticket,” argues Hart.
“He did and it was a right ticket,” Hays replies.
Then come the threats.
“I can vote to fire your ass, and I don’t need any proof,” Hart says.
Next, the accusations:
“I’m not going to have you running a little vindictive campaign against anybody, okay? Because I knew you had the cop give him the ticket,” said Hart.
“How do you know that?” asks Hays.
“I was told it and that is none of you business,” replies Hart.
“It never happened. Bring proof,” says Hays.
“I don’t need proof,” says Hart.
Ah, but now Hays had proof…that Hart was inappropriately trying to interfere with law enforcement, improperly trying to influence the city attorney, and, it seems clear, a jerk, a bully, and a jackass.
After Neosho’s mayor pronounced Hart’s conduct “disappointing” and “inappropriate,” as well as not untypical of how he has behaved toward others, Hart had his lawyer make this statement:
“It is clear from the portion of the recorded conversation which has been distributed to the press, that Councilman Hart was upset with City Attorney Steve Hays for the manner in which City Attorney Hays was targeting Neosho citizens for minor, harmless activities such as driving a lawn mower or tractor on a city street without a driver’s license. Councilman Hart deeply regrets the manner in which he expressed his frustrations to City Attorney Hays, but firmly believes such activity is not illegal and the city’s limited law enforcement resources should be put to better use. More importantly, it seems improper for City Attorney Steve Hays to secretly record a conversation about city legal issues between himself and his client, Councilman Hart.”
I know the lawyer has to stand up for his client, the Jerk, but this is inept and misleading;
1. If the activity violated a law, it was illegal. Saying it is minor doesn’t make it legal. I’d expect a lawyer to understand that.
2. The statement deceitfully states as fact what Hart alleged without proof: that the city attorney was “targeting citizens.” Thus it smears Hart unfairly, unjustly, and dishonestly.
3. Believing that the city’s resources are misapplied is a legitimate point to be made in an official manner. Insisting that a particular ticket be dropped has nothing to do with the use of resources. It is a case of the councilman meddling in ongoing law enforcement on behalf of individual citizens.
“An attorney may record a conversation, in which the attorney is a party, without notifying the other parties to the conversation, unless other actors are present including, but not limited to: (1) laws prohibiting the recording in the jurisdiction in which the recording would occur, (2) the attorney states or implies that the conversation is not being recorded, or (3) the conversation involves a current client of the attorney…. If the recording is of a conversation with a current client, the attorney must give some notice to the client that the attorney is, or may be, recording the conversation.”
Hart’s attorney needs to catch up on his legal ethics
Finally, Hart is not Hays’ client, and Hart’s lawyer should know that: it’s Legal Ethics 101. Hays’ client is the town of Neosho, and Hart was not speaking as the town’s authorized representative in that matter.
Graphic: True Crime report