Don Beason's fine is reduced, again:
Judge Paul Ridgeway ruled Beason doesn't have to pay the $30,000 fine Secretary of State Elaine Marshall imposed last year. The judge found parts of North Carolina's lobbying reform law enacted in 2007 were ambiguous and that the secretary of state had overstepped her authority in issuing the fines.
I know it might be difficult to find a sitting judge who wasn't also a lobbyist to rule on lobbying issues. But if we want to have a legal ruling that's free of any potential conflicts of interest, we should damned sure look around for one.
Once again I find myself in the (unqualified) position of having to lecture to those who should know better about conflicts.
As a former (and likely future) lobbyist, Judge Ridgeway should have recused himself from this case. But instead, he not only ruled on this case, he expanded his opinion to make sweeping determinations on the lobbying statutes, even to the point of diminishing the authority of the Secretary of State's role:
The significance of that is that the deference courts are supposed to give state agencies in interpreting administrative law is not appropriate in this case, the judge decided. It also means that the secretary of state overstepped her authority, Ridgeway wrote.
The importance of precedence being what it is, Judge Ridgeway (whether intentionally or not) has just made a ruling that could enhance his own lobbying career when he steps down from the bench and goes back into private practice. Once again, here's Canon 3(c):
Canon 3.C. (Disqualification)(1)(a) "He knows that he, individually or as a fiduciary, or his spouse or minor child residing in his household, has a financial interest in the subject matter in controversy or in a party to the proceeding, or any other interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding"
Here's a clue: If you read this and focus on the word "substantially", and you're busy flicking the beads back and forth on your mental abacus to determine how deep your conflict could be, you have a conflict of interest and should recuse yourself.