The Boston Globe had a story not so long ago about State Senator Brian Joyce, who, it turns out, had been getting his clothes cleaned for free since 1997.
That’s almost 20 years, for those of you who are mathematically impaired.
“The deal began ever so casually,” Jerry Richman recalled. Brian Joyce visited Richman’s dry cleaning shop when he was first running for state Senate back in 1997, and the eager-to-please businessman spontaneously offered to clean Joyce’s clothes for free.
Richman said there was no formal agreement and he didn’t set a time limit. The shop owner, then president of the local chamber of commerce, said he just liked the idea of befriending an up-and-coming politician who was fond of saying, “When you have me for a friend, you have a friend for life.” Richman says now that he had no idea then just how fully Joyce would embrace the offer. For the next decade, Senator Joyce or his legislative aide brought his suits, his family’s clothes, and sometimes his aide’s clothes to Woodlawn Cleaners almost every week to collect on Richman’s offer. Joyce typically brought in $50 to $100 worth of dry cleaning each time, representing tens of thousands of dollars in uncompensated services.
However, Joyce’s attorneys insist that the free dry cleaning was not a gift but Richman’s way of paying for Joyce’s legal services over the years. Richman acknowledges that Joyce gave him some discounted legal services — but only after Joyce had been getting free dry cleaning for at least six years. And Richman notes that Joyce was paid for much of his legal work, including more than $140,000 from Richman’s insurance companies, a $5,000 retainer fee paid by Richman, and another $23,192 Joyce’s firm kept from insurance company payments to Richman.
What Joyce has run afoul of is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Conflict of Interest Law, as embodied in Chapter 268A of the General Laws.
Now, to be fair, it’s unlikely that Senator Joyce changed his vote on anything because he was getting free dry cleaning for almost 20 years. But he’s not supposed to be getting freebies that his constituents don’t get.
That’s why people hate politicians.
On the other hand, I work for a company that is the premiere legislative tracking service for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If you’re a lobbyist, a trade association, an advocacy group, or often even a state agency or state legislator, you want to get your legislative information from us. In any case, the daughter of a friend of the company is now a 3rd year law student, and was interested in doing some work for us summarizing bills. Maybe 10 hours a week. We were interested in having her. The trouble is that she was also working on an unpaid internship for the Attorney General’s office, so to be correct, she needed to notify the Attorney General’s office that she wanted to do this small piece of work for our company.
You know, the Conflict of Interest statute and all.
What did the General Counsel for the Attorney General’s office say? No can do.
Why? Well, their General Counsel thought that “someone” might assume that their office had “implicitly endorsed” this young woman’s summaries. Even though:
- The Attorney General is already one of our clients.
- She would have been working under my direct supervision.
- She would have not had any direct system access, but I would have had to edit and post her summaries.
- Our company does not indicate the authorship of any of the summaries.
- Other than the Attorney General’s office and the folks at our company, no one else would even have known that she was working for us.
“This is why people hate attorneys,” as the President of our company told me.
And he’s right.
So here we have the Conflict of Interest Law. On the one hand, it doesn’t keep a State Senator from getting free laundry service for himself, his family, and some of his staff for almost 20 years. On the other hand, it does keep an unpaid intern from getting a little extra pocket money with us while providing us with a completely legitimate service.
And that’s why people hate both lawyers and politicians.