Lawyers in Charge of Information Hotline Draw Media Fire
PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) _ The state’s First Amendment Coalition plans to question a law firm hired to operate a freedom of information hotline about possible conflicts of interest stemming from the fact that the firm represents both media and business clients.
The problem arose when attorneys from the firm recently refused to help dicover details of two government contracts because they represent the companies that hold those contracts.
Ted Hecht of the Arizona Newspapers Association said the conflict presents serious questions about the effectiveness of the law firm as a freedom of information contact.
″There is some hypocrisy there if they (Brown & Bain) can pick and choose″ the records to which reporters will have access, he said.
The Phoenix Gazette said Monday a reporter from the paper called the law firm twice earlier this month to ask for help in finding records on two government contracts.
The first was a contract between ARA food service and the Phoenix Civic Plaza. The second was a contract between Hamilton Test Systems and Gosnell Corp. Hamilton operates the state’s automobile emissions control program.
In both instances, attorney Alan Blankenheimer said he could not help The Gazette because the law firm represented the contractors.
After Blankenheimer’s refusal, the Hamilton-Gosnell lease information was requested through the state attorney general’s office and the newspaper was told the documents would be made available.
Terry Mead, who represents Phoenix Newspapers Inc., said Brown & Bain might be violating rules of professional conduct if the firm’s lawyers helped The Gazette obtain information detrimental to one of their other clients.
David Bodney, a partner in Brown & Bain, said conflicts of interest ″have never been a problem″ in operating the hotline.
″We have been extremely successful in assisting reporters in understanding their rights to obtain information about government,″ Bodney said.
Hecht said the law firm will be asked for a list of their clients and the issue will be taken up at next month’s First Amendment Coalition meeting. Brown & Bain received media contributions totaling $21,000 last year for its freedom of information services.