The Ethics Cop

Mike Reid knows firsthand what it's like to bend the rules

Things went from bad to worse in the fall of 1983, when the first husband's attorney, Joseph Borich, gave Reid an ultimatum: If you don't give my client everything he wants in the divorce settlement, I'll tell the judge your client is a bigamist. "His reaction was bewilderment, fear, panic," Borich testified in a subsequent hearing before the bar administration's advisory committee. "His actual words were, 'Oh my God, oh my God. You got me. I will settle the case on your terms.'" And so the real divorce proceedings were adjudicated, completely unbeknownst to the woman. She found out three weeks after the fact, when she went to the courthouse to inquire about getting child-support payments directly from her ex-husband. In the real divorce, the ex-husband was ordered to pay $125 a month in child support instead of $200. The woman's signature was forged on a separation agreement that Reid had produced in court, as were her signatures on two promissory notes totaling $1,700 that were payable to the first husband and his parents -- the woman told the bar administration she'd never seen the documents before she went to the courthouse and a court clerk handed her the divorce file. Reid had also lied when he told the judge the woman had agreed to settle the divorce outside her presence. True to his word, Borich did not bring up the second marriage during court proceedings. He later said that he assumed Reid didn't know the woman had remarried and that his panicked reaction was due to surprise.

Reid also landed in trouble for handling a lawsuit against the woman's second husband, who was sued after being involved in a traffic accident. When he defended the lawsuit in August 1983, Reid had been readmitted to the bar, but he hardly proved effective. For one thing, he never visited the scene of the accident. His client testified that Reid spent just 10-15 minutes going over the case with him, and that was on the day of trial. The client ended up with an $1,800 judgment against him (ultimately reduced to $1,000 after he got a new lawyer). Reid also missed a deadline to file an appeal in that case, and he failed to pay required filing fees for an appeal. To his credit, Reid refused payment from the client, who later told the bar administration's advisory committee that the lawyer told him, "Buy me a six-pack sometime."

After an informal hearing in early 1984, the bar-administration committee issued 10 charges against Reid, saying he had acted "wrongfully, unethically and unprofessionally." He was ordered to appear at a formal hearing. Rather than go through such an ordeal, Reid voluntarily surrendered his law license, a maneuver that avoided public scrutiny. Once again, he blamed psychological problems for his failings. Because there was no formal hearing or adjudication of the charges against him, the entire record was sealed. The Riverfront Times obtained copies of the informal-hearing transcript and other closed records from a source who insisted on anonymity.

All told, it could have been worse. Despite evidence that signatures may have been forged, there was no criminal inquiry, which could have led to felony charges. Reid stayed on at the DOC -- indeed, he remained as legal counsel for two months after his disbarment, although he wasn't allowed to appear in court or do other legal work requiring bar membership. He was ultimately demoted to training officer, a position he kept until 1985, when he left state employment.

Just six years later, Reid returned to the public payroll when he was hired by the office of then-Secretary of State Roy D. Blunt to work at the state Campaign Finance Review Board. In 1993, the General Assembly abolished the board, which was widely criticized as ineffectual, and replaced it with the Missouri Ethics Commission. Reid kept his job under the new commission, which is charged with keeping politicians and public employees honest.

Today, at an annual salary of more than $60,640, Reid is the Ethics Commission's director of compliance. He is the man who receives complaints, assigns investigators, makes sure investigations are thorough and otherwise helps decide whether politicians, campaign contributors and state employees have acted ethically and within the bounds of the law.

"I know that it sounds incongruous that I had some problems," he says. "I believe I've turned my life around. If I did something wrong 18 years ago, I'm sure as hell sorry about it. I believe now that I try to do a good job."

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