The Kansas Government Ethics Commission moved Wednesday to grant a new hearing in a case involving an Overland Park civic group, after questions were raised about the law license of the body’s director, Mark Skoglund.
The move comes weeks after Skoglund’s law license was used as pretense by legislators to make a policy change that would have effectively removed him from office.
While lawmakers eventually backed off on the plan, it was later revealed the proposal was offered as the Ethics Commission was investigating one of the state’s most high-profile groups and, potentially, Republican legislators.
The questions about Skoglund’s status as an attorney came after he testified in the case of Fresh Vision OP, an Overland Park civic group that the Ethics Commission later determined to be a political committee.
Group members argued Fresh Vision OP, incorporated as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, was founded merely as a way of working on neighborhood issues. But the Ethics Commission said mailers the group sent in the 2021 mayoral election ran afoul of the state’s campaign finance laws.
Case in question involves Overland Park civic group
Skoglund was the lone witness in the case and was not placed under oath, ostensibly because he is an attorney. It was later stated by a member of the commission that he was obligated to be forthright because of his status as a lawyer.
Skoglund’s law license is presently suspended, though he said at the time this was due to his decision not to pay requisite fees and complete continuing education requirements.
But Joshua Ney, an attorney retained by Fresh Vision OP, filed a motion seeking to dismiss the case or obtain a rehearing, arguing Skoglund misrepresented his status as an attorney, something which would be a violation of state statute.
Skoglund said in an affidavit that the issue was not “material” to the debate and later sought to amend his testimony to effectively be sworn, a move he argued negates the basis for the motion.
“The issue of whether or not his license is suspended is immaterial,” Brent Berry, the ethics commission’s legal counsel, said during a hearing Wednesday. “There is no ethical duty to cure or correct a statement by another individual when it is not material to a case.”
But Ney argued the unsworn testimony should not have been admitted as evidence, leaving no foundation for the ruling against Fresh Vision OP.
Moreover, he said there was no basis for allowing Skoglund to “cure” his testimony after the fact, arguing it trampled on the rights of his client to question the director.
“The procedural or due-process violations of my clients’ rights outweigh any technical violation that might have been alleged,” he said.
No reason was offered publicly for why a new hearing was granted. The decision was made after the commission went into a closed-door meeting for 10 minutes to discuss the matter.
Potential probe into Kansas Chamber, legislators revealed
Legislators attempted to oust Skoglund last month by inserting a requirement into an unrelated bill that would have required the leader of the agency charged with administering and enforcing the state’s campaign finance and ethics laws have a law license in good standing for three years as of July 1, 2022.
Skoglund would not have met that criteria.
In the resulting chaos, it was confirmed by the Kansas Chamber that it had been subpoenaed by the Ethics Commission, though it denied wrongdoing and said the action was part of an “extreme fishing expedition.”
The legislative brouhaha was alluded to by John Solbach, who presided over the hearing, saying “we are a creature of the Legislature” and appearing to admonish Ney for involving legislators in the case.
“I know that you or your client has gone to the Legislature to remind us we are a creature of the Legislature,” Solbach said. “We understand that.”
Later in the hearing, Berry objected to allowing Skoglund to be deposed in the Fresh Vision OP case, saying Ney “has ulterior motives” in the matter, though he was “not at liberty” to say why he believed that to be true.
“I take issue with that representation,” Ney said in response.
Andrew Bahl is a senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 443-979-6100.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas Ethics Commission to redo hearing after law license issues