Legal Newsline

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State AGs warned against pursuits of sex and money

By Chris Rizo | Aug 7, 2008

SEATTLE, Wash. (Legal Newsline)-Ticking off a litany of recent political scandals, a South Dakota judge and former longtime state attorney general warned a group of AGs on Wednesday to avoid even the suspicion of impropriety.

Circuit Court Judge Mark Barnett, a Republican, warned attorneys general attending the summer meeting of the Conference of Western Attorneys General that the pursuits of sex and money have been the downfalls of most disgraced politicians.

"The vast majority of places where leaders get in trouble are sex, money, lies or some mixture," said Barnett, who served as South Dakota attorney general for three terms, from 1990 to 2002.

Among the ethical perils of serving as attorney general include a ravenous press, keen political opponents and one's own greed, he told conference attendees in Seattle, Wash.

"Sex, money and lies are where they always look. This is where the press is looking and they're good at it," Barnett said. "You should not assume that some newspaper, political opponent, interest group, U.S. attorney, district attorney will treat you as fairly as you like to think you treat people you are looking at."

Outlining "how we get in trouble and how they try to get us in trouble," he told conference attendees an attorney general's relative fame can quickly turn into infamy in the bare-knuckles world of statewide politics.

"There are a good number of people who are well paid to make it look like we did something wrong, even if we didn't," he said. "We categorize those as press, political opponents in our own parties, wannabees that want our job, wannabees who know we are going to compete with them for the next job up the ladder ... and then of course you have the business that you're fighting with, the businesses whose goals or agenda you are not supporting."

Burnett, who is considered to be a likely upcoming appointee to the state Supreme Court, said the media is all too happy to report on scandal or the suspicion of wrongdoing.

"We all know many in the public like to hear the thug of a fall from a high place," Barnett said, adding that the media is "ultimately selling to the public and the public loves a disaster."

"Of course, there is not a small segment of the public that believes all leaders abuse their positions for sex, sexism, cronyism, nepotism, rascalism, and hypocritism. It's an easy sell to the public, and we all need to keep that in mind," he added.

Among scandals mentioned in Barnett's presentation were those of former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, who was recently sentenced to more than two years in federal prison for his role in discount sales of city land to his former mistress, and that of California state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, who is currently the target of a federal corruption investigation.

Notably absent from Barnett's presentation was any mention of disgraced former Ohio Democratic Attorney General Marc Dann, who resigned office this year amid a sexual harassment scandal.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at

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