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City Attorney Can Serve Two Masters State Bar Says

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When Mayor L. Douglas Wilder and the School Board took their fight to the courtroom last week, City Attorney Norman B. Sales got out of the way.

According to the city charter, Sales serves as attorney for the mayor, his chief administrative officer and City Council. But his office withdrew from representing the city because council disagreed with the mayor's position in the School Board fight, prompting Wilder to hire an outside attorney.

An opinion from the Virginia State Bar, however, says Wilder didn't need to.

"The mere fact the Council or Mayor disagree on policy or legal issues does not necessarily create a conflict of interest for the City Attorney," says an opinion issued by the bar's committee on legal ethics.

Sales did not return calls from Style seeking comment. He was quoted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch last month saying that "if council takes a different position from the administration, that's going to be a conflict."

Because of Sales' stance, Wilder called upon attorney Richard Cullen to defend himself against the School Board's lawsuit. Cullen, a well-known Republican, served as Wilder's legal counsel when he was governor. He's a former U.S. attorney for Virginia's Eastern District and counts former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay among his clients.

After the school system underwent an audit by City Auditor Umesh Dalal, Wilder asked the School Board to agree to a subsequent audit by Washington, D.C., accounting firm Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates. When the School Board declined, Wilder withheld half of all non-payroll funds.

City Council sided with the School Board. Council also voiced opposition to Wilder's decision to use an emergency-procurement process issuing no-bid contracts reportedly worth almost half a million dollars to the private accounting firm.

The School Board sued the city to get its funding restored, but a judge sided with Wilder's camp last week. But Wilder and the School Board reached a compromise on the audit issue, and the second audit will be conducted by Dalal. S

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