Kansas Ethics Commission Director Skoglund has suspended his attorney’s license

The Kansas Government Ethics Commission director is under fire over the status of his attorney’s license, a dispute that could lead the legislature to pursue a policy shift to target the group and its leader, Mark Skoglund.

The question arises from a larger case about whether an Overland Park group should be considered a political committee.

Two motions filed Wednesday with the Ethics Commission would seek to dismiss or reconsider the case, arguing that Skoglund misrepresented his status as an active attorney. In a sworn affidavit, Skoglund said the matter was not “material” to the case and noted that there was no violation.

Some Republicans in the Legislative Assembly have been upset by the controversy, and sources say they are considering a political response, including implementing professional requirements for the position or even overhauling the structure of the entire legislature. committee.

Currently, Skoglund’s law license is suspended, according to the Kansas Supreme Court Attorney Directory.

In an interview, he said this was due to his decision not to pay required fees and meet continuing education requirements while working at the Kansas Legislative Research Department, where he worked until 2017 before moving on. leave to lead the commission.

“It was a big expense for something I don’t currently use,” Skoglund said.

Under current law, the director of the commission is not required to have a law degree. Its former leader, Carol Williams, for example, was not a practicing lawyer.

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The dispute stems from a dispute over the Overland Park band

Skoglund was called as a witness last week in the case of Fresh Vision OP, an Overland Park group that the commission later found to be a political committee.

At issue are two letters the group sent in 2021 in which it supported Faris Farassati, an Overland Park City Council member running for mayor, as well as similar language on its website supporting the candidate.

State law states that a group is determined to be a political committee if a “primary purpose” of its activities is to specifically advocate for or against a particular candidate. Six factors are also used to determine whether a group is a political entity.

“My assessment of the situation was that the intent of the entity was in part to have a major objective of defending a candidate for office,” Skoglund said during the meeting. “Which included a dedication of time to proceed in this manner. They also made expenses for this candidate as well.”

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Members of the group argued that Fresh Vision OP, incorporated as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group, was founded simply as a way to work on neighborhood issues. Leaders said registering as a political committee would force the group to disband.

“Our main objective, an almost exclusive objective, is the social well-being of the neighborhoods and the community around which we live,” said James Muir, the group’s director, during the hearing. “It’s not to endorse any political candidate. I don’t care if it’s a Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian. We’re going to consider candidates who are going to improve social welfare. residents of southern Overland Park.”

At the start of the hearing, John Solbach, a member of the commission acting as chairman of the meeting, said that Skoglund did not need to be sworn in to testify as the only witness in the case, because he “has an obligation to be frank with the court” as a lawyer.

Chengny Thao, one of the members of Fresh Vision OP, stopped the proceedings to ask Solbach if Skoglund was a practicing attorney in Kansas.

“He certainly is,” Solbach replied. “He is a licensed attorney and is subject to the jurisdiction of the Disciplinary Administrator. He has an obligation to be frank with the ethics committee.

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Manager argues issue isn’t ‘important’ to case

Skoglund did not respond during the trade. In an affidavit, he said it was irrelevant whether his law license was active or suspended, as he was bound by the rules of attorney discipline anyway.

“I briefly considered correcting the hearing officer regarding the status of the license,” Skoglund said in the affidavit. “However, knowing that my obligation to be forthright and the oversight of the Disciplinary Administrator apply regardless of my license status, I did not speak, as the issue was not material, nor based on a statement I had made.”

Joshua Ney, an attorney representing Fresh Vision OP in the case, filed two motions with the Ethics Commission on Wednesday, saying the issue of Skoglund’s license was a violation of due process and pushed for the complaint to be dismissed. or the holding of a new hearing.

In the filing, he pointed to instances where Skoglund was explicitly referenced as an attorney when asked to provide expertise.

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“Skoglund’s failure to disclose his ‘suspended’ attorney license status or otherwise affirmatively correct the record at the 10:30 p.m. and 10:55 p.m. timestamps when he was introduced as an ‘attorney’ and later as a ‘licensed attorney’ by the President deprived the Respondents of their opportunity to effectively cross-examine Skoglund, expand on the issues, and identify the issues for a later hearing,” the motion reads.

The motion also argues that Skoglund has failed to adequately investigate the activities of Fresh Vision OP to determine whether the group is a political committee.

The case was filed last week, giving Fresh Vision OP 30 days to file as a political committee to avoid possible penalties.

Andrew Bahl is a senior reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at abahl@gannett.com or by phone at 443-979-6100.

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