The House Clerk: Maybe this is okay, but it sure doesn’t look like it

Earlier this week, VTDigger’s Morgan True broke the story that the newly-elected State House Clerk, William MaGill, was voluntarily disbarred less than a year before his elevation. Yes, he lost his license to practice law because of ethical breaches.

MaGill had served as Assistant Clerk; and during the last two Legislative sessions, True reports, he “served as the de-facto House Clerk as his predecessor Don Milne struggled with health problems.” By all accounts he has done a good job, and the House Clerk doesn’t need to be a lawyer.

But whether or not MaGill’s professional failings are germane to his current post, I think it’s safe to say that the process wasn’t handled at all well.

Outside of the Democratic leadership, the Republican minority leader and committee chairs, it’s unclear how many representatives knew when MaGill was elected that he had been disbarred less than a year earlier for failing to act with “reasonable diligence” on a client’s behalf and commingling his money with that belonging to clients.

… House Speaker Shap Smith and Minority Leader Don Turner said that while they were aware MaGill had issues winding down his legal practice, neither was familiar with the facts of his case. Smith said he was aware that they had to do with “commingling funds,” but he had not looked into the specifics.

… In hindsight, Turner said, “It probably would have been a good idea to have this vetted — at least within the caucus.”

Ya think?

Maybe this particular disbarred lawyer is the best person for the job. But to not even realize that there might be a problem? To not inform lawmakers of the facts before they voted? To not see that the issue should be thoroughly aired? That’s exactly the kind of tone-deaf insidery stuff that makes ordinary people think the worst of their political leaders. And makes me believe that Vermont really needs an independent Ethics Commission.

While we’re at it, here’s another question. I realize that everybody loves Don Milne. He dutifully showed up for duty throughout the session. But there were times when he practically had to be carried to his seat. And MaGill was the “de-facto Clerk.”

So the heartless taxpayer inquires: Why were we paying Don Milne for the last year and a half? Because he’s a great guy, beloved by all?

Maybe this is how it plays in the Legislature. But if a certain Speaker were to become Governor, he’d have to adopt a new approach to personnel matters.

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