Hours before taking office tonight, Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg said he will resign from his law firm at the end of the year to concentrate on leading the city.
Steinberg is a shareholder and partner with the Sacramento office of law and lobbying firm Greenberg Traurig, LLP. He joined the firm a week after stepping down as leader of the state Senate in 2014, taking the lead role in its California government and law policy division.
Steinberg’s work with the firm drew scrutiny during the campaign when The Sacramento Bee reported that he was advising the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Los Angeles-based agency that relies in part on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to provide water for more than 19 million customers. MWD has strongly advocated for the construction of controversial tunnels in the Delta to transport water to south parts of the state.
Steinberg was the only person named as “key personnel” in the agency’s contract with Greenberg Traurig. The firm was paid $90,000 by MWD, according to an invoice, at a rate of $10,000 per month. The contract expired in June and Steinberg did not renew it.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Steinberg said he “is considering the possibility of establishing an independent consulting practice in the future but fulfilling the demands of his job as mayor will come first and any outside client work or income will obviously be strictly conflict-checked and fully disclosed as required by law.”
Craig Powell, an attorney and president of watchdog group Eye on Sacramento, said he did not see a conflict of interest with Steinberg starting a private practice. He said disclosure would be key to maintaining public trust.
“The mayor is entitled to have a law practice on the side,” said Powell. “There is no ethical prohibition to it either as a lawyer or an elected official. He’s just going to have to be very careful to make sure that people who retain him as an attorney do so because they want this legal work and not because they want to buy influence ... His disclosure of his clients gives the public and media and watchdogs the ability to assess if the clients he is accepting” meet that standard.