Bill Sorrell’s ethical quagmire

h/t to Ice-T, once a gangsta.

h/t to Ice-T, once a gangsta.

So I finally read through the cache of Bill Sorrell emails uncovered by Paul Heintz and Brady Toensing, and boy do I need a shower.

The Eternal General’s correspondence with high-priced lawyers at big-time law firms may not constitute illegal activity, but it does reveal an unseemly, fundamentally squicky ethical swampland. Sorrell happily splashes around in this slime pit like it’s the kiddie pool at one of those swanky hotels he enjoys on the law firms’ dime.

In public service, there should be distinct lines between friend, colleague, benefactor, client, and adversary. In his communications with these lawyers, Sorrell stomps and pisses all over those lines until they all but disappear.

Perhaps my interpretation is skewed by the fact that I have more doctors than lawyers in my family. It used to be that doctors routinely accepted gifts, meals, and expensive travel from drug company representatives. Since then, the profession’s standards have tightened considerably. Doctors, health care organizations and professional societies have very strict limits on such things.

With Sorrell, it’s the Wild West. And while he can assert that his conduct is not affected by all the freebies, the appearance itself is awful. Especially for the guy who’s supposed to be the people’s lawyer.

Some of these specifics have been reported by Paul Heintz in Seven Days (most recently here), but I’ll outline some of the items that especially struck me.

Over and over again, as a matter of course, Sorrell accepts free travel and top-shelf hospitality from big out-of-state law firms. He appears at events arranged and paid for by the firms. He clearly has personal relationships with lawyers at these firms, which are simultaneously representing corporate clients with matters pending before the state.

Most of the uncovered emails are with two lawyers at top law firms, Lori Kalani and Divonne Smoyer. Both have very specialized practices, focused on building relationships with state Attorneys General on behalf of their corporate clients. As the New York Times reported, this has become a key area of concern for corporate law firms as Attorneys General have become more and more involved in business-related oversight, regulation, and litigation.

Both Kalani and Smoyer, as it happens, are young and female. I’m not implying hanky-panky here; but it certainly doesn’t hurt when most AGs are middle-aged or older men. It’s like Fox News always having an attractive woman showing off her legs on screen. You occasionally get a touch of flirtiness in the emails, as when Smoyer writes about bringing “1/2 a wet suit” to a conference in Florida for some ocean swimming.

Er, that’s the same conference at which Sorrell planned “some pool and/or beach reading.”

Workin’ hard there, Bill?

There are a surprising number of conferences for state AGs, usually held in resort towns or tourist-friendly big cities, and always at the finest hotels. Democratic and Republican AGs each have their own get-togethers. The National Association of Attorneys General has its own. And Sorrell, for some reason, regularly attends something called the Conference of Western Attorneys General. If he’s a western Attorney General, then I’m a cowboy.

In one email to Smoyer, he writes about possibly attending a CWAG gathering in Maui: “I still need to think more about the CWAG junket. . . I mean trip.”

Hahaha. Oh Bill, you’re such a card.

Many of his emails contain cringeworthy lines — at one point, he writes Smoyer approvingly about a Washington, D.C. bar’s “bottomless wine glasses.” But it’s the general atmosphere that’s the real issue. Sorrell just assumes he can accept all kinds of goodies from these law firms, and build close relationships with lawyers who are often his professional adversaries.

And here’s a thing that really rubbed me the wrong way. These firms routinely hold panel discussions featuring AGs and other experts. These events involve a minimal amount of preparation and a maximal amount of hospitality. For instance:

In February 2014, the law firm of Dickstein Shapiro held a panel discussion on patent trolling. Sorrell was one of the participants. The event was held at the InterContinental Barclay Hotel in New York City. The panel and Q&A session ran from 3-5 p.m., followed by a cocktail reception and a dinner hosted by Dickstein Shapiro.

For being one of three panelists, Sorrell got comped travel, free food and drink, and two nights’ lodging at one of New York’s finer hotels. All courtesy of a law firm that’s trying to win Sorrell’s favor and negotiate with him on behalf of corporate clients.

In case you think I’m exaggerating, here’s a passage from Smoyer’s official bio:

Smoyer works with AGs in anticipation of potential issues being raised or pursued by them, and then crafts creative solutions to those issues before they affect clients.

She also helps clients minimize exposure to litigation initiated by AGs and defends AG actions and investigations when they are unavoidable.

“Creative solutions” indeed. Even if Sorrell’s professional activities are unaffected by his personal dealings, his image as an honest broker is fatally compromised.

If this stuff isn’t illegal, it damn well should be.

6 thoughts on “Bill Sorrell’s ethical quagmire

  1. Thaddeus

    Democrats of today are the retarded cousins of Kennedy’s democrats. All they seek is total control over every aspect of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness and they will stop at nothing to achieve it, hence the deplorable actions of our proudly “democratic” AG… There can be no doubt that our governor is fully aware of this AG’s actions and probably even encourages such behavior especially with the healthcare issue, GMO issue, Vermont Yankee issue, etc. etc.

    What more will come from these people? Well considering they willingly sold your right to choose to a union (healthcare), willingly and against majority opposition began the first steps to gun control (in clear violation of Vermont’s 16th article) and have begun the communist actions of government mandates over social free will (ex: immunizations), the possibilities are limitless… Especially with an AG willing to do favors and bend the law where people like Bloomberg and Soros who need a law bent…

    Democrats are the enemy of America and Freedom… Treat them as such.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Democrats have no monopoly on malfeasance, nor on liberty infringement. Republicans do their share of both. Otherwise, your comment is so extreme and abusive that I pondered whether to allow it or not. I finally decided to give you the rope and let you hang yourself.

  2. christolicious

    It’s like saying you’re not affected by gravity, yet here you are, standing on the ground. Someone can cut me a check for 10,000 and I can say, out loud, that that does not influence my decision-making, but I’d be wrong. And I’d know it, which is apparently the primary difference between the Average Joe and Sorrell. He knows where the money comes from, even if it’s not a direct payment. It’s a gift in kind – hotels, cocktails, and 1/2 wet suits – and non-profits have to report them for the same reason an AG should not be accepting them as gifts.

  3. Brooke Paige

    Wild Willy Sorrell – Giddy Up Cowboy – The Wild West of Unethical Behavior.

    Governor Jim Douglas recently commented that Bill Sorrell is the best example of why Vermont should have term limits – I think he was being too kind!

    Bill Sorrell is probably also the best reason Vermont should have ethics standards for every elected official in state government. Here is a guy who travels the country “on the cuff” of the very individuals and firms that he engages and litigates with on behalf of the state.

    While many would offer that his level of misconduct does not warrant investigation, indictment, prosecution, conviction and removal from office; having personally engaged with the “eternal” General (in matters relating to Vermont’s election code), I can “testify’ that he is little more than a political animal who uses his office as if it were his personal “social and political boutique” law firm lending a distinctive political air to every encounter – he does not deserve to hold the position of A/G, especially since he carries on this activity at the taxpayer’s expense.

    This arrogant, boorish, self-important lout needs to be removed from his position of authority – not only for his financial misconduct but just as importantly because he has abdicated one his most important responsibilities – that of chief law enforcement officer of the State of Vermont. Under Sorrell’s tenure criminal activity of every nature has exploded while he has frequently taken the position that “we cannot litigate our way out of the situation” suggesting that, in the case of drug dealers and traffickers that somehow diversion and rehabilitation will remediate the problem – his position is sheer insanity and threatens the very lives of all Vermonters.

    I hope that the legal efforts of Brady Toensing will bear fruit, but it should be remembered that Sorrell’s campaign financing indiscretions are a mere sideshow compared to his incompetence and dereliction in fulfilling his duties as Attorney General.

    Being Ester and Tommy (Thomas William) Sorrell’s “little boy” has carried Billy far. Ester and Tom were instrumental in the rise of the Democratic Party in Vermont, especially in Chittenden Co., where his mom is lovingly referred to as the “Queen Bee” of the party. At this late date, any perceived debt the Democrats may have felt has been repaid many times over while burdening the taxpayers with this public-service albatross.

    Whether by resignation, conviction or defeat at the ballot box – it’s time for this bad player to leave (or be removed from) the field!

    H. Brooke Paige
    Washington, Vermont

    1. Thaddeus

      Why has my comment not been posted yet, when it was first, and others after mine have been posted??

      1. John S. Walters Post author

        I’ve just posted it, with my response. I didn’t post it right away because the comments section is moderated by me, and I had to think about whether your comment went too far. I have my standards, and there is no free speech right to post comments on this site.

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