There is this practice in Idaho of allowing County prosecutors to handle City cases on a contract basis. So small town hires County PA to prosecute misdemeanor cases, rather than have their own City prosecutor or some private law firm that functions as the City’s lawyer. County Prosecutors have been doing this across the state forever, and it likely works fine in most cases. Still – how is it that County employees, being paid by the County to conduct the County’s business, do the City’s work while on the County’s clock? I have never understood how this does not violate the basic premise that a full-time County employee should be doing the County’s work full-time.
Enter the Canyon County Prosecutor’s contract with the City of Nampa. John Bujak – a lawyer and prosecutor for whom I have great respect – has resigned after paying $70K of some $350K he is supposed to owe to Canyon County on the Nampa City prosecutor’s contact. Canyon County employees have been prosecuting Nampa City misdemeanor cases for the past year after the City turned over the contract to the County. Apparently John received the monthly checks, said he would use the money to pay the increased cost of prosecuting the cases to Canyon County, but did not turn over the money or account for it. The Idaho Statesman has reported as much today, and John Bujak has resigned.
So how did this happen? Time will sort it all out but these things seem obvious to me:
First, the County was asleep at the wheel. If Mr. Bujak obtained the contract for the county, the county had a duty to oversee its performance. County employees were performing City business. That is fine but the County ultimately has to make sure that it, and not John Bujak, is receiving the money that was intended to reimburse the County.
Second, John Bujak repeatedly said that he was not going to benefit personally from the contract. It starts to look like he may have. Time will tell.
Third, the duty of the lawyer holding money for a client is to do just that – HOLD IT – not use it as his or her own. The contract may have been in his name but the contract called for the County to perform, not John Bujak. I do not know whether John used some of that money for his personal needs, but the duty of the lawyer is to safeguard the client’s funds.
Finally, I hope the appearance of impropriety is simply that. John Bujak has been a fair and reasoned prosecutor. I hope that there is some innocent explanation for this situation. I hope that the County is reimbursed the money it is owed – whether that amount is $1 or $300K. The appearance of impropriety hurts all of us as lawyers.