California's ethics agency has cleared state Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine)… (Associated Press )
SACRAMENTO -- The state ethics agency has found insufficient evidence that state Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine) violated conflict of interest laws when she asked a staffer to call prison officials for the status of a state claim filed by her husband's company.
However, the intervention by her office drew an advisory letter Tuesday from an attorney for the state Fair Political Practices Commission indicating that the activity created an "appearance" of a conflict and "more care should be taken" in the future.
The agency's investigation found that Walters in 2011 directed one of her staff members, Everett Rice, to make inquiries regarding a constituent complaint that a $105,882 claim filed by the firm Drug Consultants Inc. against the prison system was not being processed expediently.
The firm, which provided medical workers to serve inmates, was co-owned until last year by the senator's husband, David Walters.
Rice made 15 phone calls to state agencies in the next three months to determine the status of the claim, which was eventually settled for $74,400, according to Galena West, senior counsel for the Enforcement Division of the FPPC. The calls were first reported by The Times in May 2012.
“Although this activity creates the appearance of a conflict of interest since the claim was with regard to Sen. Walters' husband's company, the contacts by Mr. Rice do not rise to the level of attempting to influence the decisionmaking in the three agencies involved with the processing of the claim," West wrote to Walters' attorney.
Officials in the agencies contacted said Rice had asked only for a status update and never spoke on the claim itself, she said.
However, West warned, "the very nature of engaging an agency on an issue with which the senator has a material financial interest puts her at great risk of crossing the line into participating or influencing a state governmental decision."
"More care should be taken in the future to avoid such situations," West wrote, adding that the case was being closed without enforcement action.
The FPPC action "completely vindicated" Walters, according to her attorney, Charles H. Bell. "There was no attempt to influence the three agencies by Sen. Walters or her staff person," Bell said in a statement Tuesday.
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