Current legal work could pose 'difficult question' as Andy Beshear mulls future race

09/10/2013 02:29 PM

Whenever he’s asked these days about running for attorney general, Andy Beshear, son of Gov. Steve Beshear, offers a standard answer of having “very strong interest” in it — about as close to an announcement of candidacy as it can get.

But if he runs in the 2015 Democratic primary, Beshear, a Louisville lawyer, will have to balance the positions his law firm has taken on cases that the commonwealth currently is fighting or could potentially get involved in. And that could cause a “difficult question” for Beshear in the campaign, as another potential Democratic attorney general candidate, Rep. John Tilley, put it.

Beshear, like his father once did, works for Stites & Harbison. And that firm, for instance, is one of several representing pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma . Purdue Pharma manufactures the painkiller Oxycontin, which has proven to be addictive. And Kentucky has been in a six-year lawsuit over the marketing of the drug to Kentucky doctors. Beshear is not one of the firm’s primary lawyers listed on that case, according to court filings.

But he is one of the Stites & Harbison attorneys who represents the company that is attempting to build a natural gas liquids pipeline through the state. The State Journal first reported that Beshear is representing the company, Boardwalk Pipeline Partners.

When Pure Politics asked Beshear last month about representing Boardwalk, he clarified that Stites & Harbison has been representing Boardwalk since 1995. Beshear didn’t graduate law school until 2003.

“That’s 10-years before I even joined the law firm and that company employs hundreds of Kentuckians throughout,” Beshear said. “The firm was hired to provide purely legal services, no lobbying, they haven’t done it. I haven’t done it. We’re just doing the job we were hired for.”

While Beshear is not one of the lawyers representing Purdue Pharma, that case does raise a dilemma for an aspiring attorney general. Current Attorney General Jack Conway is leading the commonwealth’s case against Purdue.

Previous Attorney General Greg Stumbo, who is now the Speaker of the House, brought the case against Purdue in 2007. And if the lawsuit isn’t resolved by 2015, the next attorney general would inherit the case. If that’s Beshear, he could find himself on the other side of the courtroom from his former employer.

Conway said he couldn’t speak for Beshear, but said he had a situation which needed clarification while transitioning from a private attorney to the attorney general in 2007.

“I would say to anyone who is exiting private practice and going on to become a public attorney, or attorney general, or what-have-you they ought to take a look at their practice. They ought to submit all that information into the Kentucky Bar Association’s Ethics Hotline and they’ll get a letter back from the KBA telling them what they ought to do,” Conway said. “That letter under our rules creates sort of a safe harbor – that if you act in accordance with that you can’t be found guilty of any kind of ethical problems by the bar association.”

Beshear said, if elected, he would follow those procedures outlined by the Kentucky Bar Association.

“Steve Beshear, Jack Conway, David Armstrong all went through that procedure and we’d do the same,” Beshear said in a follow-up phone interview with Pure Politics.

In July 2012 Beshear wrote a brief article for Stites & Harbison clients advising them of “significant coordination” among attorneys general across the United States in recent lawsuits.

Beshear went on in the article to prepare clients “in an effort to avoid this fate” of litigation brought by states’ attorneys general. He said companies should pay attention to data privacy issues referenced in the article, given the “posture of the National Association of Attorneys General.”

Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, is also considering a run for attorney general in 2015. Tilley told Pure Politics that representing those interests poses a “difficult question” for Beshear.

“He’s going to have to regulate folks who are paying him, and paying his bills right now and paying him handsomely,” Tilley said. “I think he’s going to have to consider that before he makes a run.”

Another lawyer considering running in the Democratic primary is Jennifer Moore, the former Democratic Party Chairman who runs her own private practice in Louisville.

Moore told Pure Politics in a telephone interview that it’s common practice for attorneys check for potential conflicts before accepting a case. But as a personal injury attorney, she said she didn’t foresee any conflicts with her background and the position of attorney general.

“I don’t have any conflicts with the attorney general’s office,” Moore said.


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