LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A Louisville Metro Police officer sued over accusations of cover-up of sex abuse in the department's youth Explorer program has asked a judge to remove Metro Council President David Yates as attorney for the alleged victim, arguing his involvement is a violation of ethics and common sense.
Yates, as president of the council, has a “real and clear conflict which cannot be ignored nor justified to the citizens of Louisville,” attorney Lee Sitlinger wrote in a motion Tuesday on behalf of former Maj. Curtis Flaherty.
Flaherty. who recently retired, ran the police department's Explorer program that mentored young people interested in careers in law enforcement before moving to LMPD's investigative unit.
Two officers in the program at the time, Kenneth Betts and Brandon Wood, have been indicted for sexually abusing teens and Flaherty is accused in a lawsuit of covering it up. Another officer, Brad Schuhmann, is under investigation and on administrative leave. Schuhmann is not named in the lawsuit.
A motion on Flaherty's behalf in the civil suit argues there are numerous attorneys besides Yates that could represent the alleged victim, identified only as "N.C." in court documents. Attorney Tad Thomas also currently represents N.C.
N.C. claims Betts and Wood sexually abused him while he was a teen in the department’s youth Explorer program between 2011 and 2013.
Sitlinger said Yates is also alleging a “cover-up” by police officials and possibly others in the city – “which conceivably could extend even to members of Metro Council.”
As president of Metro Council, Yates is required to approve budges -- including the allocation of funds to LMPD -- has discussed a no-confidence vote of Chief Steve Conrad and been present at meetings where Conrad has updated the council on violent crime and reorganization.
“In sum, the City Council, including its President David Yates, are intimately involved in the actual operation of the LMPD,” Sitlinger wrote in his motion. “How can attorney Yates on one hand make allegations against the LMPD and its members … and on the other hand defend those allegations as a member of Metro Council?. He cannot fulfill his fiduciary responsibility to both his legal client and Metro Council.”
And Sitlinger cited a ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court involving an attorney who was also a member of the City Council and represented someone suing the city. The court ruled the attorney had “fiduciary responsibilities” to the city and thus had a conflict of interest.
Also, Sitlinger noted, the Bar in California held that it was unethical for a law firm which employed a city council to represent a plaintiff against the city.
In addition, Sitlinger took issue with Yates’ recent argument to stay on the case, which included an opinion from Louisville attorney Peter Ostermiller, who defends lawyers in bar disciplinary cases, and attorney Deborah Kent, who was retained by Yates to advise him on any possible conflict.
Ostermiller said an expert used by Jefferson County Attorney Michael O’Connell in a previous motion to remove Johnson “misstates Kentucky law on the issue.”
But Sitlinger argues that Ostermiller’s qualifications “pale in comparison” to the county attorney’s expert, Professor Vincent Johnson.
Johnson said it is “simply breathtaking that the President of the Metro Council would purport to act as lead counsel in a highly publicized and potentially costly claim against the Metro Government. The entire situation is shrouded by an appearance of misuse of official power that threatens to corrode public confidence in government."
Kent, former general counsel for the Louisville Metro Ethics Commission, concluded that any complaint against Yates for a conflict would be “dismissed for lack of probable cause,” according to her letter.
But Sitlinger said Kent’s opinion “appears to be based on inaccurate and incomplete information,” hired solely to defend Yates, not analyze Metro Government’s Ethics Code.
Last month, Yates asked Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman to ignore the County Attorney’s “blatant grandstanding” and “pandering to the media” and allow him to continue representing the alleged victim in the sex abuse lawsuit.
Yates argued he "undertook meticulous efforts to research the law in Kentucky,” obtained ethics rulings from attorneys and reached out to the Kentucky Bar Association hotline for an opinion, according to the motion.
“There is simply no conflict which would prohibit Yates from pursuing justice on behalf of the victims in this case,” according to the motion.
Sitlinger countered that Yates cited no supporting case law from Kentucky or any other jurisdiction involving similar cases.
“The absence of such supporting case law further evidences the lack of authority for permitting such dual and conflicting fiduciary obligations,” he wrote.
Judge McDonald-Burkman has scheduled a hearing on the issue for September.
“In a time when the public’s perception of both our legal and political systems are at their lowest ebb, there can be no question that the allowance of an attorney who sits as president of Metro Council to sue the entity to which he was elected to represent for huge sums of money will only further severely damage the public’s image of both institutions,” Sitlinger wrote.
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