News

Flashes

For Crying Out Dowd!
Governor Fife Symington's attorney, John M. Dowd, is the focus of a stinging story in The National Law Journal.

Dowd represents Symington in a federal criminal probe of the governor's finances. He also defended Symington against a federal suit stemming from the failure of Southwest Savings and Loan.

The Law Journal reports that Dowd's handling of a case involving a corporate whistle-blower and the agricultural firm Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM) has raised "interesting questions about attorney-client privilege."

Dowd is a partner in the Washington, D.C., firm of Aiken, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, which represents ADM. Despite this, Dowd met in June for four hours with ADM executive Mark E. Whitacre. For years, Whitacre had secretly taped fellow executives and provided data to the feds about ADM's alleged attempts to fix prices. He was fired from the firm in August, after ADM alleged he stole millions of dollars.

The FBI urged Whitacre to get legal advice from a firm other than Aiken, Gump. But Whitacre met with Dowd and said he was an FBI informant. "Dowd promised me he wouldn't tell anybody about my real role," Whitacre told Fortune magazine.

But ADM officials learned of Whitacre's FBI connection the day after he met with Dowd.

Dowd claims he told ADM officials that Whitacre intended to cooperate with the FBI, but insists that Whitacre already had disclosed that information to ADM's lawyer.

"If Dowd was representing Whitacre, then the attorney-client privilege is Whitacre's, and Dowd can't tell anybody anything without Whitacre's consent," Geoffrey C. Hazard Jr., director of the American Law Institute, told the Law Journal.

"If Dowd was representing ADM, and Whitacre began a hot story, then Dowd should have interrupted him and told him that he represented ADM and couldn't represent Whitacre," Hazard says.

Legal experts say Dowd had a conflict because of his law firm's connection to ADM. "In my view, he cannot come in and assume he is going to represent the individual when he is a member of a firm that has represented the corporation," one expert told the Law Journal.

Death and Laxness
At least someone in state government is looking after retirement funds. Mabel Helmick got a letter from the Arizona State Retirement System, which handles retirement benefits for state employees, informing her that since "a Mabel Helmick" had been reported dead, her benefits were suspended.

Helmick, 79, is the widow of Ray Helmick, a former state department head.
Helmick went to Retirement System offices and was told that she was assumed dead because an employee had seen her obituary. Sure enough, on October 6, the Arizona Republic had run an obit for "Mable 'Mitzi' Helmick, 77, of Scottsdale." The first name was spelled differently, the age was off, the town was different, but Helmick's benefits were suspended nonetheless.

"We had to suspend her benefits because we were not sure if she had passed away," says Shannon Hatch, a Retirement System official. "We have to be safe and stop the account. Otherwise, the money continues, and we don't know the member passed away."
Helmick will get her November check. And she'll keep a close eye on the obits. "If there's a John Smith there, I guess they go out and remove every John Smith from the system," she says.Feed The Flash: voice, 229-8486; fax, 340-8806; online, [email protected]

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.