In the memorandum of understanding recently signed by the Cobb County Commission and the Atlanta Braves to bring the team to Cobb in 2017, the entertainment district surrounding the stadium is to be developed by BRED Co. LLC, a separate entity owned by the Braves. The Registered Agent for BRED Co. is Maxine Hicks, a partner at the DLA Piper law firm’s office in Atlanta, where she is chair of the office’s Real Estate practice.
Hicks joined DLA Piper in 2011 from the Atlanta office of Epstein Becker & Green, bringing along five other lawyers, Including Ceasar Mitchell, who is now Of Counsel in Piper’s real estate practice. Mitchell was the featured attorney in the 25th Anniversary edition of the Atlanta Tribune. In a Patch article noting this achievement, Mitchell is cited as saying that Hicks is one of his mentors.
Mitchell is also president of the Atlanta City Council.
In an Atlanta Daily World story following the Braves’ announcement, Mitchell is quoted as saying,
“I was never briefed by the administration on what was happening,” said Mitchell. “I was aware that there were negotiations going on, [but] I was not aware that the Braves had made a decision to leave. I learned like everyone else, I learned roughly the same time that the mayor did…although I was aware that there were negotiations that were going on for at least a year.”
Is there a potential conflict of interest here? The American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct addresses the situation when a lawyer is a current government officer. In a nutshell, Mitchell would be prohibited from participating in the BRED Co. negotiations unless the Atlanta City Council had given consent in writing.
The City of Atlanta Code of Ethics would also appear to prohibit Mitchell from being involved in the BRED Co. deal.
There is no evidence that Mitchell, Hicks or DLA Piper committed an ethics violation in their handling of the stadium deal. It’s quite possible that the law firm constructed a “Chinese Wall” and kept all information about BRED Co. away from the City Council president.
But especially in this day and age, when trust in government is low and charges of crony capitalism are rampant, should DLA Piper have been involved in representing BRED Co., knowing the potential conflict of interest?