KC attorney uses city time to work on private case

Friday, July 2, 2010 | 12:30 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — City Hall's top lawyer, who once pushed the firings of two colleagues for doing private case work on city time, recently handled a private case during business hours.

In late May, City Attorney Galen Beaufort represented a 19-year-old Harrisonville woman on a minor traffic offense in Cass County without first obtaining the required permission from the city manager.

"This was an oversight on my part," said Beaufort, who described his client as an acquaintance without money who had been arrested on a traffic warrant. He said he received no compensation for her case.

Beaufort's boss, acting City Manager Troy Schulte, said that Beaufort recently told him about the private work but that he didn't realize the full details.

"I believe directors need to be above reproach when it comes to this type of issue," he said.

Schulte said he would take steps to remind all city employees about the rules on moonlighting.

In 2004, Beaufort persuaded the Kansas City Council to fire the city prosecutor for handling numerous private legal cases for years on city time. Another lawyer was suspended and a third resigned.

In arguing for harsh discipline against the lawyers, Beaufort cited a policy requiring attorneys to get prior approval and take vacation or leave to do outside legal work.

Beaufort said he met the woman some time ago at a restaurant, which he would not identify. A waitress, she asked for his business card, saying that someday she might need an attorney.

The Cass County traffic case began in the summer of 2009 when the Missouri Highway Patrol gave the woman a ticket for failing to display license plates on her vehicle. The ticket listed her employer as Dream Girls, an adult nightclub in Centerview, Mo. Beaufort said he was unaware until recently she had worked there.

After she missed a September hearing, a judge issued a warrant, according to court records. Authorities arrested her in late May 2010.

Beaufort said he quickly received a call from the woman while he was on a family vacation. The next evening in Kansas City, he used a city fax machine to send a notice to the court that he would represent her. He provided his City Hall office and phone numbers for his contact information. Both were oversights, Beaufort said Thursday.

Beaufort said he was out of City Hall for two hours and 50 minutes representing the woman on a Tuesday morning. She pleaded guilty and paid a $177.50 fine, according to court records.

Beaufort said he worked 49 hours and 35 minutes for the city during the week in question and charged the private case as vacation time. This was, he said, the first time in more than 20 years with the city that he had taken private legal work.

He argued that his case was nothing like those of the lawyers he sought to discipline in 2004. Those attorneys had made regular court appearances during work hours on numerous paying cases unrelated to their City Hall workloads. One lawyer, he said, had even seen private clients in his municipal office.

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