CHEYENNE, Wyo. — One of three finalists recommended by the Wyoming Republican Party to succeed former state Treasurer Joe Meyer was censured by the state Supreme Court last year for misleading an opposing lawyer in a lawsuit.
The party on Monday named Rock Springs lawyer Clark Stith and two others as possible replacements for Meyer, who died earlier this month. The high court censured Stith in April 2011, saying he failed to tell an opposing lawyer that Stith's client had insurance that could help settle a civil claim.
The other finalists the party recommended to Gov. Matt Mead were Bruce Brown, 56, a certified public accountant from the town of Devil's Tower, and Buffalo rancher Mark Gordon, 55, a former board member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
The Treasurer's Office oversees state investments that totaled more than $15 billion at the start of the current fiscal year in July. The Republican governor will interview the three finalists Wednesday and intends to name one as state treasurer Friday.
The order of public censure against Stith, signed by Chief Justice Marilyn S. Kite, required him to pay nearly $7,500, mainly to cover the cost of the investigation by the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Wyoming State Bar. The order incorporated a report compiled by the board that found Stith committed professional misconduct by engaging in activity "involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation."
Stith maintains he followed the rules.
In the lawsuit, Stith represented a company called PyroTechs, which installed a fire suppression system for a commercial kitchen at a hotel in Elk Mountain. The company that owned the hotel, Historic Hotels of Wyoming, sued PyroTechs claiming the fire system discharged unnecessarily.
According to the state bar association's report, a lawyer in a civil dispute must inform the lawyer on the other side if their client has insurance that could help settle a pending claim. The report says Stith marked "not applicable" on the form when asked if his client carried insurance coverage.
The report also says Stith "intimated" to lawyer William Hiser of Laramie, representing the hotel company, that his client had no insurance. Hiser learned that PyroTechs had insurance coverage only after the case was settled.
Stith, 51, testified in the state bar's investigation that he believed he wasn't required to reveal the existence of the insurance because his client told him initially he didn't intend to file a claim. "(Stith) also testified that he believed revealing the existence of insurance, in a case with small value, would distort or otherwise inflate the value of the case," the report states.
In an interview Tuesday, Stith said he was surprised to be censured and still believes he followed the proper procedures in the case.
"I was loyal to my client. I complied with the rules," Stith told The Associated Press. "And in my view, after the game was over, the state bar changed the rules. I was disappointed in the decision. Litigation is a bit like hockey. If you play hard, you might wind up in the penalty box."
Stith said he doesn't think the censure or his behavior in the case should give Mead or anyone else pause to consider him for the treasurer's post.
Hiser said Tuesday he believes the Wyoming State Bar accurately characterized Stith's conduct when it announced last year that Stith had misled him.
"What was going on in that case was there's a requirement for attorneys to disclose whether or not insurance exists, under the initial disclosures," Hiser said. "And under the initial disclosures, he indicated it did not exist, when in fact it did. I guess his explanation for it was that 'My client wasn't going to make a claim on insurance, so therefore it didn't exist.'"