Public Safety chief Shanahan moonlighting at his law firm

cjarvis@newsobserver.comMay 10, 2013 

— N.C. Public Safety Secretary Kieran Shanahan has continued to give legal advice and consult with clients at his law firm since taking office in January.

Shanahan said Friday that the side work has been minimal, and that he has neither appeared in court nor taken part in depositions since he was sworn in.

State employees are allowed to have second jobs so long as they are approved by a superior. In Shanahan’s case, that would be Gov. Pat McCrory, but Shanahan said the State Personnel Act doesn’t require him to receive written permission to moonlight.

Even so, Shanahan said in written responses to questions from The News & Observer that for the sake of propriety, he filled out a secondary employment request form and asked it to be placed in his personnel file. He provided a copy of the form: It was dated Jan. 11, 2013, and indicates he would do outside work on evenings and weekends.

Shanahan said he has “remained available to existing clients” for advice and for consultation.

A concern is that the public doesn’t know who those clients are, said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina.

“There’s something weird going on with McCrory and his guys,” Hall said. “They seem to think it’s just fine to have paying clients while you’re elected or holding office, and what’s more, you don’t even have to disclose who the clients are. Maybe Shanahan has sweepstakes poker people for his clients, or beer wholesalers, or payday lenders. How do we know? What’s the public supposed to think?”

As secretary of the state Department of Public Safety, Shanahan is in charge of close to 27,000 employees. The governor has also assigned him two ambitious tasks: assessing whether the recent merger of three separate state agencies into one department is working, and traveling the state developing a schools safety plan.

He recently made public appearances in Boone and Morehead City to gather community ideas about school safety.

Shanahan’s salary is $135,000.

Shanahan said that his firm, the Shanahan Law Group in Raleigh, stopped handling criminal cases in state courts, and he has withdrawn from all pending criminal cases. It could have been a conflict of interest if Shanahan, as head of the state’s law enforcement agencies, was a defense attorney in a criminal case.

A representative of the State Bar said the rules of professional conduct would not necessarily preclude Shanahan from practicing some areas of the law so long as it wasn’t criminal law and a direct conflict with his new post.

The law firm also represents clients before the General Assembly and governmental agencies, but Shanahan says it has not done any work at the General Assembly since he took office.

“We are taking appropriate action to avoid potential conflicts,” Shanahan said in his written response.

One other issue is whether his law firm can continue to be named after him. A State Bar rule prohibits lawyers who hold public office to use their names in the name of a law firm “during any substantial period” when the lawyer isn’t actively practicing with the firm.

Shanahan said he consulted with the State Bar when he was appointed, and is working with his counsel to determine the proper course.

Shanahan has been a significant player in state Republican Party politics.

Earlier this year, he upheld the firing of the acting chief of the State Capitol Police and a sergeant for arranging off-duty work for officers at a violence-prone nightclub. In that case, approval for the secondary employment hadn’t been sought ahead of time.

Staff writer Anne Blythe contributed.

CORRECTION: Bob Hall is the executive director of Democracy North Carolina. His affiliation was previously incorrect. Correction made at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 11, 2013.

CLARIFICATION:Kieran Shanahan says his law firm has not done any work at the General Assembly since he took office. Clarification made at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 11, 2013.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576

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