MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A Memphis city council member is taking aim at the city attorney claiming the city attorney’s second job at a law firm creates a conflict of interest.
City attorney Bruce McMullen serves in a part time capacity as chief legal officer but he also practices at one of the largest law firms in town. It’s something at least one council member wants to outlaw.
“The firm of which the current city attorney is employed in my opinion if you look at the numbers it says that his firm has benefited more than any other firm here in Memphis,” said City Councilman Martavius Jones.
Jones says he believes McMullen’s firm Baker Donelson is getting special treatment handling city business, leading to fiery moments Tuesday in council chambers.
Records from the city show varying amounts of payments for legal services over the years from more than $600,000 to the firm in calendar year 2010 to $82,000 in 2015--the amounts have increased throughout the Strickland administration hitting $537,000 so far in 2019.
“I receive absolutely no benefit from work that the city of Memphis does with Baker Donelson,” said McMullen.
McMullen says there has been no breach of ethics and in a statement Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland says when the firm is used to represent the city it’s a decision he makes--not McMullen.
Strickland also says chief legal officers in prior administrations have served in part time capacities. McMullen says that’s to ensure the city has access to sharp attorneys still practicing.
“That’s an elected mayors responsibility to put together his cabinet and the people that will make him feel successful, I think there was no secret when I was nominated and approved I would still maintain my status at baker Donelson,” said McMullen.
Council member Jones’ ordinance banning city division directors from part-time roles was held for two weeks amid concerns that it may violate the charter as written.
We reached out to Baker Donelson for reaction and have not heard back.