FRANKFORT — In early 2010, scores of homeowners complained to Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway about official-looking letters sent by a Miami company, Home Service USA, urging them to provide their bank account numbers and insure their water lines for $59.88 a year.
"Indication is given at the top of the page that this mailing is from the State of Kentucky," a manager at Boyle County's Parksville Water District wrote to Conway. "The wording below the customer's address implies the customer is required to have this insurance and must do so by Feb. 1, 2010. Some have indicated to us they understood they had no choice but to sign up for this insurance."
To resolve the matter, Conway's office cut a deal with Andrew Beshear, the lawyer for Home Service USA who is now seeking to replace Conway.
The company did not admit to false trade practices, but it agreed to pay $7,500 in fines and costs and adjusted its sales pitch to clarify that it's not a government agency and its product is optional. Still, complaints continued, alleging deceptive marketing and poor service, but the attorney general took no further action.
"I believe it is clear that Home Service USA intended to accurately portray itself and its services," Beshear wrote to the attorney general as they finalized the February 2010 settlement.
Beshear, the son of Gov. Steve Beshear, practices "attorney general defense" at Stites & Harbison in Louisville, helping companies that have run afoul of the state's top law-enforcement officer. He's also the only declared candidate for attorney general in 2015.
Although Andrew Beshear wants voters to make him responsible for protecting Kentuckians from civil and criminal offenses, the Democratic candidate won't discuss his legal work or identify any of the clients he has represented before the attorney general.
"Under the Rules of Professional Conduct published by the Kentucky Supreme Court, identifying clients in this situation could constitute a legal ethics violation that could result in sanctions," Andrew Beshear's campaign manager, Jared Smith, wrote in an email to the Herald-Leader last week. Andrew Beshear himself did not return calls seeking comment.
However, Stites & Harbison publicly identifies 53 of its corporate and government clients on its website. Some of those clients, such as OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma, have battled Kentucky's attorney general in court. Stites & Harbison has represented Purdue Pharma against Kentucky's pending claim that it illegally marketed its painkiller and caused an opioid addiction epidemic.
Smith referred questions about client disclosure to one of Beshear's campaign backers, retired state trial judge Stan Billingsley of Carrollton, who runs a law blog. In an interview, Billingsley said Kentucky lawyers can identify their clients with the clients' permission. The Supreme Court rule states: "In the absence of the client's informed consent, the lawyer must not reveal information relating to the representation."
"The rule clearly has exceptions in it, and as long as he follows the rules of those exceptions, then he should have no trouble with the (Kentucky Bar Association) on it," Billingsley said.
'Voters should insist'
Any lawyer running for attorney general should expect questions about his clients, particularly with cases involving the attorney general's office, said attorney Jon Fleischaker, chairman of the First Amendment and Media Practice Group at the Louisville law office of Dinsmore & Shohl.
"It's perfectly legitimate to demand that sort of information from a candidate who is seeking to enforce the laws of the commonwealth, because you want to know where their allegiances lie," said Fleischaker, who helped draft Kentucky's open government laws and often represents the Kentucky Press Association and other news organizations.
"It's what I would call a political obligation, to let people know what you've been doing before you ask for their vote — what you've been doing and who you've been doing it for," Fleischaker said. "Voters should insist on it."
The Herald-Leader obtained information about the Home Service USA case from two sources: the "miscellaneous file" at Franklin Circuit Court, where a paper copy of the settlement is shelved but the case isn't listed in the court's public computer database, and documents from a Kentucky Open Records Act request to the attorney general's office. Andrew Beshear's role as defense lawyer was disclosed in both.
The attorney general's office objected to the Herald-Leader's request to release all of its correspondence with Andrew Beshear from recent years, calling that request "overly broad in nature," but a spokeswoman later said no such documents exist.
'Most favorable ... rulings'
Without disclosure by Andrew Beshear or the attorney general's office, voters next year won't have much information about the candidate's activities in Frankfort. Many of his cases are resolved outside the courtroom, leaving none of the public paper trail produced by a lawsuit or criminal prosecution.
On the Stites & Harbison website, Andrew Beshear is identified as one of the firm's two "practice leaders," along with Richard Vance, in "antitrust, consumer protection and attorney general defense." The firm does not identify its specific clients on the website, but it says the practice leaders' cases include:
■ "Ongoing representation of international pharmaceutical companies ... In these cases, the attorney general has sued manufacturers alleging conspiracy to inflate reported drug prices and thereby defraud state Medicaid programs. Stites & Harbison served as lead counsel in what has become one of the most favorable ... rulings in the country."
■ "Numerous successful pre-suit negotiations and mediations with Kentucky's attorney general concerning alleged statewide deceptive advertising."
■ "Achieving dismissal of antitrust counts against a state contractor accused of employing unfair trade practices."
■ "Successfully representing Kentucky banks in defending and blocking acquisitions involving competitive issues."
■ "Achieving a successful preemption defense of a Kentucky attorney general 'Do Not Call' civil penalty action against a national bank."
Andrew Beshear also represented Boardwalk Pipeline Partners as it unsuccessfully fought in Frankfort for the right to invoke eminent domain powers and build a natural gas liquids pipeline across private property against landowners' wishes.
Andrew Beshear last year spoke for the company at the Kentucky Public Service Commission, the utility-regulating agency whose three commissioners are appointed by his father, the governor. After much debate and a Franklin Circuit Court ruling against the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline, plans for the project were suspended in April.