Tuesday, June 19, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Every upstanding law firm needs framed diplomas from the finest law schools, crystal decanters for single malt scotch and a nice solid oak conference table. And in Nevada, it seems, they require one other amenity: Their very own legislator.
The latest to catch my eye, thanks to a nice billboard featuring her likeness on U.S. 95, is Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, who has been with the firm Maddox, Isaacson & Cisneros since last year.
One of the partners, Bob Maddox, is known as one of the most effective construction defect plaintiff attorneys in the state, and the firm’s website notes his history of “preserv(ing) the rights of Nevada homeowners” at the Legislature.
During the past two legislative sessions, construction defect lawyers have defended what they say are the rights of their clients against shoddy contractors. Builders and subcontractors, meanwhile, say frivolous lawsuits and exorbitant, automatic attorney fees for the plaintiffs are killing their businesses.
This fight is vicious. Builders will try again next session for changes to the law, emboldened by the ongoing scandal of corrupt homeowner associations steering phony construction defect work to favored law firms, which has led to multiple convictions in federal court, as well as suicides and other tragic fallout.
To be fair, Maddox, Isaacson & Cisneros have launched an effort to attract Hispanic clients, so it’s understandable they would hire Flores, a first-term Democrat who is a graduate of USC and UNLV’s Boyd School of Law and has deep ties to the community. And, she isn’t doing construction defect work. Her firm, however, will no doubt take a keen interest in construction defect law at the Legislature. Will Maddox lobby Flores?
When I asked Flores about this, she replied in an email: “I would react to any issue that is related to my firm’s practice area(s) as I hope any other legislator whose full time profession intersects with proposed legislation would: with an open mind and rational judgment. As part-time legislators, we must all exercise our best judgment on whether we should abstain from voting, make disclosures, and/or do anything else the law requires.”
An encouraging answer.
Flores won’t be alone next year when it comes to navigating these waters.
State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, a former reporter and spokesman for former Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons and then a state agency, now does marketing for McDonald Carano Wilson. Last session the firm represented developers, contractors, doctors, solar companies, the Washoe County Sheriff’s office and a northern water agency, among other clients.
Republican State Sen. Greg Brower, a former U.S. Attorney, is at Snell & Wilmer, which last session represented Bank of America, hospitals, slot machine companies, AIG (the insurance giant that nearly crashed the world economy before getting bailed out by the feds) and the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.
State Sen. Michael Roberson, a Republican who hopes to become majority leader after the November elections, is a lawyer at Kolesar & Leatham. Last year, the Las Vegas firm formed a government affairs practice run by Republican operative and lobbyist Robert Uithoven. I’m sure Roberson’s rising profile in the upper chamber had nothing to do with the firm’s decision to go into influence peddling, er, “government affairs.”
The Legislature also has its share of public employees, who have their own conflicts on issues such as pay and benefits and collective bargaining rights.
And, on the construction defect issue, a few Republican legislators flaunt their conflict of interest.
I recently received a letter from Assemblyman Ira Hansen, in which he placed the blame for the HOA scandal on the state’s construction defect law. That’s a reasonable conclusion, to be sure. Hansen, however, owns a plumbing business and would stand to financially benefit from legislative changes that make it harder for homeowners to sue him, so maybe he should do his lobbying on this issue a little more quietly.
The situation isn’t hopeless because ultimately the state’s fate still rests in the voters’ hands. Given an uninformed and disengaged electorate, however, we should understand what’s going on: The only people with influence at the Legislature are the people who can bring resources to bear. Period. I’m talking about the people who can write big checks to campaigns, and then hire an army of lobbyists -- some of whom advised the campaigns -- in Carson City to influence outmatched and befuddled legislators.
Sticking a legislator on the payroll surely doesn’t hurt either.
Sun librarian Rebecca Clifford-Cruz contributed to this report.