To the editor:
As a corporate and securities law counselor to companies large and small for the past three decades, I take exception to remarks that Mark W. Everson, the commissioner of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, volunteered to The New York Times. I reference his opinion piece with the insulting headline “Lawyers and Accountants Once Put Integrity First,” which was published by the Times on Sunday, June 19, 2011 (Week in Review, p. 8).
That Father’s Day column drew on Mr. Everson’s recollection of his father’s career as a Wall Street attorney and his own experiences as an accountant with a Big Eight firm leading to his stint as commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service under George W. Bush.
Recounting how honorable his father and he had been, and suggesting that lawyers and accountants in years gone by never “expected to get rich,” Mr. Everson lambasted both groups of professionals with the broadside that “[l]awyers and accountants who were once the proud pillars of our financial system have become the happy architects of its circumvention.”
As a remedy, he suggests that corporations should be stripped of their attorney-client privilege for discussions with their attorneys about “commercial transactions and financings and even government-mandated filings and disclosures...” Thus, in the span of two column inches, Mr. Everson suggests laying waste to a bedrock common law evidentiary principle that is grounded on sound policy, while suggesting that somehow he is opening up a “healthy” debate on a “can of worms.”
Further, his remarks seem to support the assignment to lawyers of a public “gatekeeper” role that, although increasingly suggested by Securities and Exchange Commission staff and others in speeches since the Enron debacle, is also not well grounded in the law or sound policy.
His conclusion is “[w]e should look at all the moving parts in our financial system – starting with the outside professionals – not just Wall Street and Washington.” Maybe he means Indiana?
I’ll let the accountants express their own outrage.
Maybe Mr. Everson is unaware that the subjects that he has so cavalierly addressed are the subjects of much regulatory, congressional, and scholarly debate, much of it triggered by the fallout from Enron, and the fallout of which included the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and sweeping changes affecting auditors and lawyers for public companies. He’s about a decade late.
I am proud of the professionalism of the lawyers (and accountants) who assist the businesses of this state in attempting always to comply with their legal obligations with integrity, and find Mr. Everson’s piece of drivel to be an embarrassment to this state and the public administration of which he serves. He’s entitled, of course, to express his opinion, but better for him to do so as John Q. Citizen and not as a member of the cabinet of Gov. Daniels.•
Mark B. Barnes
Mark Barnes Law PC