New and more restrictive guidelines governing outside legal work that deputy county attorneys can perform were approved Wednesday by the Davis County Commission.
Deputy attorneys in the Davis County attorney's office can no longer maintain a private office or advertise for private clients, under the guidelines, and their time in court on behalf of private clients is severely restricted.In addition, any court time a deputy attorney puts in on behalf of a private client during regular working hours will be deducted from his vacation or comp time, according to the guidelines.
The new regulations apply only to the deputy attorneys and not County Attorney Mel Wilson, who is an elected official and who maintains a private practice in addition to his county responsibilities.
The commissioners also approved guidelines on mileage reimbursement, listing set mileages for travel from the county courthouse in Farmington to circuit and juvenile court facilities in the county.
The regulations were drawn up by Wilson after an audit in November by County Auditor Ruth M. Kennington's office turned up some discrepancies in mileage reimbursement practices and time card records in the attorney's office.
Wilson disputed the findings, saying the auditors don't understand how the county attorney's office operates. Deputy attorneys are often called out in the middle of the night by police agencies to help in investigations or assist in drawing up arrest warrants, Wilson said.
And, Wilson said, any problems with time cards or pay schedules are the responsibility of the auditor's office, which is charged with insuring that such requests are proper before authorizing payment.
The audit was ordered by the commissioners after receiving complaints from citizens about expense report violations and some possible conflicts of interest among the deputy attorneys representing private clients.
Much of the conflict of interest probe centered on deputy attorney Robert Hart, then the juvenile court prosecutor, and his joint private practice in Clearfield with Wilson, his boss.
Commissioner Harold Tippetts said last fall when the probe was ordered that the commission members feel salaries for the deputy attorneys are sufficiently high that they should be working full time for the county and not performing outside legal work on county time or using county office space or secretarial help.
"The salaries are such in the attorney's office that this is a full-time job," Tippetts said at the time. "We are not willing to budget money to meet the demands of a part-time job."
Hart said Wednesday he has closed down his portion of the office he shared with Wilson and, although still handling some private clients, works out of an office in his home.
"I only have a few private clients right now, a little plaintiff (civil) work that I'm doing that involves very little litigation or court time," said Hart.
"It's mostly writing letters to insurance companies, asking for payment for people that have been injured or suffered a loss," Hart said. "I work exclusively out of my home and even when I had the office with Mel (Wilson), I was never there.
"This (the new guidelines) suits me fine, I don't have any problems with them," he said. "For a year I was paying money for an office I never used and never saw any clients in."
Hart has transferred out of juvenile court and back to prosecuting misdemeanor and felony cases in circuit and district court and said his outside legal work "doesn't interfere in any way with what I'm doing here."
While always under general county personnel regulations that forbid outside employment that conflicts with county duties, deputy attorneys were free in the past to take on outside legal clients.
The new guidelines forbid deputy attorneys from representing clients in a criminal case or in lawsuits against the county.