Did State Senator breach ethics to help law firm client?
COLUMBIA, 9/12/12 (Beat Byte) -- Imagine you had a lawyer who could not only take your case to a court of law, but could change the law in your favor.
An attorney who could say, "My client didn't violate that law, your Honor. Because I voted to repeal that law during my second job -- as a Missouri state lawmaker."
Not only has Mr. Schaefer represented the ag giant in multimillion-dollar lawsuits as an attorney at Lathrop and Gage
, but earlier this year he voted to retroactively exempt
Smithfield from a law it had presumably been violating since 2007.
Schaefer's vote is an ethics breach of the worst kind, critics say.
"Senator Schaefer needs to decide if he represents Boone County -- or if he is a lobbyist employed by Lathrop and Gage on behalf of Smithfield Foods," said a Boone County constituent not connected to the Still campaign or Smithfield litigation. He tipped the Heart Beat off to the story on condition his name be left off the record. "Senator Schaefer should abstain from voting on matters of benefit to a specific client."
Aware Senator Schaefer was Smithfield's attorney, they probed recent legislation that might impact the company. They found Senate Bill (SB) 631
, "an act to repeal" five Missouri laws and in their place, enact "thirteen new laws," all related to agriculture.
Section after section addressing education, grain sales, livestock exhibitions, and even "agri-tourism," SB-631 doesn't look like a mega-corporate handout. That's one reason the law is so galling, critics say.
Couched in the needs of smaller farmers, SB-631 strong arms the demands of one big farmer in two sections aptly entitled CORPORATIONS OWNING FARMLAND
The act ended a prohibition on corporate pork production as of September 28, 2007 in Daviess, Gentry, or Worth counties, those sections explain.
A special exemption for a specific type of corporate farm in three specific Missouri counties as of a specific month in a specific year. Why all the specifics?
A corporate farming newcomer in Daviess, Gentry, and Worth counties, Smithfield ostensibly broke the law, which reads in part, "No corporation not already engaged in farming shall engage in farming; nor shall any corporation, directly or indirectly, acquire, or otherwise obtain an interest...in any title to agricultural land in this state."
With his fellow Senators, Mr. Schaefer changed all that by exempting his client from the pesky prohibition, all the way back to 2007. Governor Nixon signed SB 631 -- and the Smithfield Foods exemption -- this July.
Question of integrity
Though it's not the first time legislators have carved out corporate farming exemptions
-- Putnam, Mercer, and Sullivan counties are also on the list -- Mr. Schaefer's support of the exemption for Smithfield Foods has observers questioning his integrity -- and his commitment to constituents without Smithfield-sized wallets.
Why didn't he abstain from voting on SB-631? Did he breach conflict of interest standards by representing his client, not only before the Bar, but before the Missouri State Legislature?
In recent years, Mr. Schaefer has served as Smithfield's lawyer in Hanes v Smithfield Foods, et. al. in DeKalb County; Austin v. Howerton, et. al. in Henry County; and Guthrie v. Cargill Pork, et. al. in Audrain County.
Many of the cases involve damages caused by the rank odor of a hog farm
. Some 200 similar lawsuits have been filed or settled.
Although he freely admits representing Smithfield, Mr. Schaefer is convinced the controversy is nothing more than the latest helping of political stew served up by opponents like Mary Still.
"The difference between me and Mary is that I strongly support all agriculture, which is Missouri's largest industry, and she supports plaintiffs' lawyers
trying to make money off of it," Mr. Schaefer told the Heart Beat. "I've voted on many agricultural bills, and as far as I know, I've never voted on a bill that impacts any one agricultural interest differently than agricultural interests in general."
[Edited. Ed. Note: This publication had no contact with the Still campaign nor any representatives thereof].