MONDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2012
O’Neal: Says he followed rules Continued from Page 1A
by a legislator at a lobbying entity. "This is unprecedented in terms of conflict of interest," Hensley said. "I've strongly felt that you should have at least two years, maybe longer, where you can't jump immediately from being a lawmaker to a lobbyist." Bob Beatty, Washburn University professor of political science, said O'Neal stretched the framework of Kansas' citizen legislature. "It traditionally does not pass the smell test," Beatty said. "That's easily fixed. Just pass a law and put a time limit on when you can lobby. Of course, the biggest problem with that is the people who have to pass the law are the very people benefiting from this." O'Neal's decision to begin the chamber job prior to exiting the Legislature followed in the footsteps of other attention-generating maneuvers by the practicing lawyer. Events included the speaker serving as lead attorney in a 2010 lawsuit against the state challenging action by the 2009 Legislature to confiscate $5 million from special fee accounts financed by insurance, business and trade groups in Kansas to support regulatory functions. More than a dozen associations, some of whom contributed to O'Neal's campaigns, hired the speaker to seek a state court order blocking future "sweeps" of fee funds. O'Neal's challenge on consti-
tutional grounds was rejected in September by Shawnee County District Court Judge Franklin Theis, but the case is on appeal to the Kansas Court of Appeals. "All I'm going to say is that it's a pretty confusing decision," O'Neal said. "Long story short, his ruling is that the parties lack standing to challenge the constitutionality of the sweeps. Don't ask me how he got to that." Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, was among six Democrats who answered O'Neal's active role in litigation against the state by filing an ethics complaint against the House speaker. O'Neal said he followed House rules by voting "no" on the fee sweep and submitting an official protest with the House clerk. He subsequently was cleared of misconduct by a House review committee, but the members recommended repeal of an obscure rule relied upon by O'Neal to get involved in the case. The House committee said the litigation managed by O'Neal "led to the appearance of impropriety and cast a shadow of suspicion and public criticism over the Kansas House." Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said O'Neal's participation in the lawsuit could be justified. "It's one of those things that sounds odd. It probably didn't cross a bright ethical line," Barker said. "You have two sides arguing it out and the judge mak-
ing the decision — not a legislator." O'Neal, who chaired the House Judiciary Committee for 16 years, was a key player in tort reform legislation despite working as a lawyer specializing in representation of health professionals in malpractice cases. Early in O'Neal's tenure in the House, he was accused of attempting to use information gained as a state legislator to generate legal business. In 1989, O'Neal sent a letter on Gilliland and Hayes law firm stationery to insurance companies. "In my capacity as a member of the House Labor and Industry Committee," O'Neal wrote, "I come into possession of a great deal of information which is not generally made available to the bar or the insurance industry. I have found that this information helps to give me some insight on the direction the workers compensation office is going with regard to particular issues." He also authored a 1988 law, upheld by the Kansas Supreme Court last month, limiting compensation for pain and suffering to $250,000 in personal injury lawsuits. "That was something that I was extremely proud of," O'Neal said. "Of course, that was kind of in my backyard, because in real life I was a lawyer who represented doctors, nurses and hospitals."
In 2009, O'Neal made headlines when brought before the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission regarding the hiring of his wife to an administrative job in the House leadership office. The commission decided there was insufficient evidence O'Neal broke nepotism law. O'Neal said nothing he did in service to the state conflicted with the intent of a citizen legislature, which anticipates House and Senate members work parttime in their political job and maintain employment and connections to home districts. "It is only when you get into areas where a piece of legislation is going to single you out, or specifically target something you're doing, or a client is doing and give them an economic advantage that others don't have, that you really, No. 1, have to recuse yourself," O'Neal said. He said attacks on his character linked to his full-time job were a frustrating feature of state politics. "Yes, I've used the experience I've had in a law practice just like teachers have used their experience, farmers have used their experience, bankers have used their experience. And, I think, that's good," he said. Tim Carpenter can be reached at (785) 295-1158 or timothy. firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at cjonline.com/blog/ political-runoff.
briefly CLUBS, MEETINGS
Sertoma Heartland Club, noon Tuesday, Dec. 11, Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, 1515 S.W. 10th. Program: Kelly Erby, assistant professor of history at Washburn University. Information: Kara White, 295-8181. US Acts! Institute Debate Club, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11, 1127 S.W. Horne. Information: www.usacts.org. Kansas Capital Quilters Guild, 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11, Woman’s Club of Topeka, 5221 S.W. West Drive. Information: www.kscapitalquilters. com. Capital City Barbershop Chorus, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11, West Side Baptist Church, S.W. 4th and Fillmore. New members and guests welcome. Information: 271-6208 or
email@example.com. Topeka West Rotary, 7 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12, Hy-Vee, S.W. 29th and Wanamaker. Information: Don Lumpe, 273-1188, firstname.lastname@example.org. City of Topeka Retirees Club, 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec, 12, Golden Corral, 1601 S.W. Wanamaker. Information: Larry Shannon, 478-2345. Topeka Chapter of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees, 11:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12, Jayhawk Tower (Senate Room), 700 S.W. Jackson. Speaker: Julie Jenson, with the FBI. Cost: $10 members, $15 nonmembers. Registration (by noon Dec. 10): www.agaks.org/education training/pls/register.shtml, or email Russell Shipley, rshipley@ btandcocpa.com.