Suspended Ethics Attorney Looks Elsewhere For Employment

March 9, 2011 6:53 a.m.

One of the suspended attorneys in the middle of a brewing showdown between Republicans and Democrats on the House Ethics Committee is looking to jump ship and get out of the messy ethics battle altogether.

Morgan Kim, who served as deputy chief of staff of the panel in the last Congress and lead attorney on the case against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), has applied for the job of Broward County inspector general, according to a list of applicants compiled by the Sun-Sentinel. According to the Florida paper, Kim is among the 24 applicants considered “well-qualified” for the watchdog role, which will police the activities of all elected officials in Broward County.

Kim and Stacy Sovereign, her colleague on the Waters’ case, were placed on indefinite paid administrative leave last November, and as TPM reported in late February, remained on the House payroll as of Jan. 31. The two tangled with then-chief of staff Blake Chisam over details of Waters case and just how hard to pursue it. Chisam wanted to fire Kim and Sovereign, blaming them for bungling the case after discovering a piece of evidence he believed was critical one week before Waters’ trial was scheduled to begin.

Rep. Job Bonner (R-AL), then the ranking member of the ethics panel, came to the attorneys’ defense and objected to their firing. The two have been on paid administrative leave ever since, but their future is in limbo, and Bonner and the top-ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), aren’t saying whether they will be reinstated as full-fledge staffers or be fired, citing ethics panel confidentiality rules.

But behind the scenes, House sources tell TPM that Bonner and Sanchez are in a standoff about the attorneys’ future, and the only question is just how much of a fight Sanchez is willing to put up over the nettlesome impasse.

The Ethics Committee would clearly have a difficult time firing the two, who would likely respond to such a move with a wrongful termination lawsuit. Their attorney, Richard Sauber, did not respond to a request for comment about Kim’s interest in the Broward County job and whether the two remain on the House payroll.

Bonner and Sanchez also have remained mum on how they plan to handle the Waters case after a such a rocky time for the panel. Waters is accused of intervening on behalf of a minority-owned bank in which her husband owns stock and on whose board he’d previously sat. She has mounted a vigorous, detailed defense, arguing she was acting on behalf of all minority-owned banks, as she has done for other minority interests for years, and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight it through a legal defense fund.

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