Is It Unethical For The Council President To Sue The City? One Expert Says No.
The head of the Louisville Metro Council is suing the city and its police department over allegations of sexual abuse by two officers involved in a youth training program.
Metro Council president David Yates filed a lawsuit earlier this month alleging the officers raped a young man during a two year span as he took part in the Louisville Metro Police Explorers Program, according to a report from The Courier-Journal.
The young man is not named in the suit, which is currently sealed by a Jefferson Circuit Court Judge. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is requesting the suit be unsealed and Yates said he supports that push, but only if the man's identity remains secret.
Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell raised ethical concerns regarding Yates’ involvement in the case.
In a statement, O'Connell said there's "a possible conflict of interest where Mr. Yates, an elected public officer, is suing the government in which he serves and for which he may have a financial interest in the outcome of the lawsuit.”
Yates, himself, dismissed that claim.
He told The Courier-Journal he obtained an opinion from the Kentucky Bar Association and has hired a former attorney for the city's ethics commission to represent him regarding a possible conflict of interest.
I spoke to Jonathan Ricketts, a former chair of the Louisville Metro Ethics Commission. Listen to our conversation in the player above.
Rickett's said Yates' involvement certainly "raises an eyebrow," but appears to be in no violation of the city's ethics code.
"Ultimately, provided that President Yates doesn't use his official capacity or his title as president or his access to government as president, then I believe he would be compliant with the ordinance as written," Ricketts said.
The city's ethics ordinance states that "no Metro Officer shall use or attempt to use his or her official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages."
Essentially, Yates must approach the case as any other attorney and be wary of using any special privilege afforded to him by his status on the Metro Council, Ricketts said.
This means Yates cannot use his position as the Metro Council president to gain access to records, witnesses or evidence not readily available under the rules of civil procedure, he said.
Furthermore, Yates must "be aware and cautious" of any legislation he votes on or discussion he holds in his official capacity as Metro Council president, Ricketts said.
The city's ethics code prohibits a Metro officer from acting in an official capacity on items which they could have a financial interest in. This could include voting to approve or disapprove settlements associated with lawsuits, Ricketts said.
"Obviously, President Yates would do well to abstain from anything that would come anywhere near being associated with this lawsuit," he said.
So, how does the public ensure Yates isn't violating the ethics code? Largely, it depends on trust.
The ethics ordinance puts the burden on the Metro officer to be aware of the rules regarding ethical conflicts and to remain in compliance.
"I see no reason to believe he hasn't complied with it," Ricketts said.
But, Yates should strive for transparency when identifying the sources of any information he presents as evidence during court proceedings. This, Ricketts said, could rule out any speculation of wrongdoing on Yates' part.
Ricketts served as the chair of the Louisville Metro Ethics Commission for six years. He now works in private practice and is in no way associated with the city's ethics commission.