WASHINGTON – Rep. Tom Reed’s Corning law office continued to operate under his name while he has been serving as a member of Congress, despite House ethics and American Bar Association rules that appear to bar that practice.
Legal documents filed in Corning City Court and obtained by The Buffalo News showed that “The Law Office of Thomas W. Reed II, PLLC” continued to operate under that name through at least 2011, after Reed’s election to Congress in November 2010.
And an online search of cases reveals that the law firm using Reed’s name filed 194 cases in Corning City Court in 2011 and nine more in 2012. Most appear to be medical debt collection cases Reed’s firm filed on behalf of Corning Hospital or the Guthrie Clinic.
And although Reed has not practiced law since joining the House, he listed his law firm – with his name in it – on his most recent personal financial disclosure statement. And the law firm’s registration with the New York State Department of State was listed as active as recently as Friday.
All of this appears to fly in the face of the Rules of the House of Representatives, which say that lawmakers and their staff members cannot practice law outside of Congress “or permit the name of such individual to be used by such a firm, partnership, association, corporation, or other entity.”
In addition, by continuing to have his law firm named after himself, Reed appears to be in violation of the bar association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which say: “The name of a lawyer holding a public office shall not be used in the name of a law firm, or in communications on its behalf, during any substantial period in which the lawyer is not actively and regularly practicing with the firm.”
The Reed camp insisted he had done nothing wrong.
“Tom hasn’t practiced law since he took office and in fact never renewed his license,” said Katherine Pudwill, Reed’s campaign spokeswoman. “The law firm in question is no longer operating: ongoing actions were transferred to another attorney, the firm was dismantled and assets disposed of in accordance with House ethics rules.”
Tom Rust, interim chief counsel and staff director at the House Ethics Committee, said he could not comment on Reed’s situation.
Bill Choyke, senior strategist with the American Bar Association’s Communications and Media Relations Division, said there’s good reason why an officeholder should not keep his or her name attached to a law firm.
“In short, it is misleading to include someone’s name in the firm name if they are not actually practicing with the firm,” Choyke said.
Reed’s congressional aides responded with a statement from Joe Rizzo, a Rochester lawyer who has handled the dissolution of Reed’s legal practice.
“Tom ceased the practice of law upon taking office,” Rizzo said. “As outside counsel we proactively sought guidance from the Ethics Committee and worked with him to dispose of the firm’s assets so that it could be dissolved in accordance with the ethical guidelines – a process which is nearly complete.
“We have been fully transparent with the committee and in Tom’s disclosures throughout the entire process,” Rizzo added. “Any suggestion that we have not acted appropriately within the ethics laws at every turn is inaccurate and without legal merit.”