Name dropping for fun and profit

You be the judge:

Suppose you were married to the attorney general. Would it be proper, fair, legal and ethical for you to hit up businesses — including law firms — and ask them to hire you as a high-priced “leadership development” consultant?

In your sales-pitch literature, you subtly but unmistakably note who your spouse is. And if that weren’t enough, when you sign the come-on, you add her last name, which you’ve legally taken, to yours, as in “Daniel Granholm Mulhern.”

That’s exactly what Mulhern, a nonpracticing lawyer who, like his more famous wife, is an alum of Harvard Law School, has been doing.

“Have I done anything ethically wrong? I sure don’t think so,” he tells me.

“What do you think about it?” he blurts. “I apologize for being a bit defensive on this point, but ... I went to Yale Divinity School. I think I have always tried to be a good person. I don’t think there are any ethical or legal issues.”

Technically, any law firm is, by definition involved with the attorney general’s office; she is the chief law enforcement officer of the state and, by definition, “may intervene in any lawsuit, civil or criminal, which the interests of the state of Michigan require.” Asked whether some of the firms he solicited worked closely with the attorney general’s office, Mulhern says, “I have no idea.”

It’s understandable that he’s a little nervous. Mulhern’s wife is not only Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm; she is running for governor.

So is what he’s doing all right? Strictly speaking, the answer seems to be yes.

Larry Dubin, a law professor at University of Detroit Mercy and an expert on legal-ethical issues, says he knows of nothing that would ethically forbid an attorney from soliciting business in this way, even if his wife is attorney general.

He says some might raise an eyebrow if Mulhern made an exception in adding his wife’s last name to his own in his pitch to law firms. He says he took Granholm as his middle name when they wed. In any case, as long as he isn’t fraudulently representing himself, it doesn’t appear to violate any canons.

Dubin says, “But what I do find curious is that lawyers would be interested in these kinds of seminars. Normally, they are not. Most attorneys aren’t interested in any seminars of the type they can’t justify as a billable expense.”

There’s never been a hint of any quid pro quo. No one’s charging that law firms that sign on to pay Mulhern $4,650 per person for nine one-day leadership sessions get special consideration from the attorney general’s office. Nor does anyone think there’s an implied threat against any firm that doesn’t hire the Mulhern Hastings Group.

But there are plenty of people who think it doesn’t look good, including a member of one law firm who brought the solicitation letter to my attention. The fact that he doesn’t want his name made public ought to be an indication that this doesn’t feel quite right.

As is the last page of the letter, where a lawyer has circled the “Granholm” portion of Mulhern’s last name. Next to it, in large letters, is this contemptuous scribble: “WOW! It’s still there.”

Naturally, Daniel Mulhern has every right to make a living, regardless of his wife’s identity. Testimonials on his Web site show high praise for his abilities, from organizations such as Leadership Detroit to the Kennedy School of Government. Everyone, including me and most likely you, has gotten jobs at least in part because of who we, or our friends and relations, know.

Other questions have been raised about cronyism involving taxpayer-supported county contracts Mulhern has been awarded.

His wife’s political career was launched by Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara, who made her his corporation counsel in 1994. It should be noted that her husband, who had worked for the county from 1987 to 1991, didn’t do any work for McNamara’s empire while Jennifer Granholm was its chief legal officer.

But he began soliciting county work within a month after she left. Two months ago, the Macomb Daily newspaper revealed Mulhern had been awarded six Wayne County contracts for about $300,000 worth of work shortly after his wife gave up her job as corporation counsel to become attorney general.

According to reporter Chad Selweski, five of the contracts were no-bid affairs. Bids were taken for the sixth, a seven-month, $172,000 deal to train 20 airport personnel. All the other bids were far lower than Mulhern’s. But a four-member team awarded the contract to Mulhern Hastings. The team was headed by David Katz, now chairman of Granholm’s gubernatorial campaign. Later, Mulhern got a $7,500 contract to provide “tutorial leadership development” for Katz, then head of Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

Jennifer Granholm and Dan Mulhern say this is no big deal. Perhaps they are right. But what bothers me most is that it doesn’t seem to bother them.

Worth taking in, and free:

Nobody can argue that science, any more than politics, can be divorced from morality. That’s what the play Copenhagen, which opens at the Fisher next week, is about. Next Monday at 6 p.m. there will be a symposium at the Detroit Science Center, “From A-Bomb to Anthrax, Science Society and Terrorism,” which will bring together a noted scientist, politician and an actor from the play to discuss these things. I’ll also preside over a discussion, open to the audience. And yes, I got the job through a no-bid contract ... mainly because I’m charging no fee.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]
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