By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
State Sen. Noreen Evans, who has expressed frustration publicly with how much lawmakers are compensated, resumed practicing law two years ago and in that time generated thousands of dollars in extra income, records show.
The Santa Rosa Democrat won’t say how much extra money she earned on top of her $95,291 annual state salary, not including a per diem and other benefits.
The senator, who was an attorney prior to being elected to office, reported earning between $20,000 and $200,000 last year from the Santa Rosa firms of Edgar Law and O’Brien, Watters & Davis, LLP.
For 2010, Evans reported earning as much as $10,000 from the Edgar firm, records show.
But Tom Roth, the senator’s chief of staff, said Tuesday that Evans “over-reported” her outside income for 2011. He characterized it as a clerical error and said the senator is planning to file amended reports after she returns from vacation today.
Lawmakers generally aren’t prohibited from earning outside income so long as they don’t vote on matters that directly affect the companies or organizations they are working for. But they are forbidden under state conflict-of-interest laws from representing clients who have business before the Legislature.
Evans could not be reached for an interview this week but in an early-morning voice mail message she left for a reporter on Saturday she addressed her legal work.
She did not identify her clients but gave assurances that none of them has business in Sacramento.
She said she needs to work as an attorney because she anticipates being termed out of office in 2018, assuming voters re-elect her in two years.
“I can’t start a new career in my early 60s, which is how old I’ll be when I term out,” Evans said. “I need to maintain my legal skills and my relationships so that I have a law practice when I’m done.”
Outside work performed by legislators was more common in Sacramento before a series of scandals involving lawmakers who were getting paid for work they didn’t do or who had questionable relationships with people who had them on the payroll led to a tightening of political reform laws in 1994.
Dan Walters, the Sacramento Bee’s longtime political columnist, said he recalls a time when lawmakers with legal backgrounds maintained law practices out of their district offices.
He said most lawmakers today earn income solely from their legislative work. He also said there are relatively few lawyers still serving in the Legislature.
“The basic assumption is that you’re getting paid to be a full-time legislator,” Walters said. “But it gets bent this way and that.”
State records show that Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, remained on the payroll of two unions after he took office last year.
Neither Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, or Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, reported being paid outside income in 2011, records show.
The Fair Political Practices Commission requires that lawmakers submit economic interest forms annually under the state’s political laws.
The commission this week requested that Evans file amended financial disclosure forms for 2010 and 2011 to accurately reflect that she was paid for legal services through a law practice that she owns, and not as an employee of the firms who paid her for the work.
That will require Evans to provide more detailed financial information, including how much her business is worth and how much gross income she has earned from it. She also will have to report each individual source of income greater than $10,000.
“The statute requires that it be reported that way so that the public has a full picture and the most truthful picture of the business arrangement,” said Lynda Cassady, division chief of the FPPC’s Technical Assistance Division.
Evans said she has continued to maintain a part-time law practice since 1982. However, since her time in elected office, she did not report paid income as an attorney until 2010, six years after she began serving her first term in the state Assembly, records show.
Evans also has submitted an application to become a justice on the California Courts of Appeal.
The senator’s extra income coincided with a state commission slashing lawmakers’ pay by 18 percent in 2009. In addition to the pay cut, Evans publicly complained about lawmakers losing their leased vehicles and about threats to dock their pay if they did not deliver a state budget on time.
Evans took some flak for that stance, and may take more over her decision to work as an attorney while still in office, said David McCuan, a political scientist at Sonoma State University.
“She is entitled to make an income on top of her salary, but it doesn’t help in the broader scheme of things that California legislators are only slightly more popular than members of Congress,” he said.
Mike Watters, who is a partner in one of the Santa Rosa firms that paid the senator for work last year, said he gave Evans her first job as an attorney, and that Evans was an equity partner and trial lawyer with the firm until 1990.
The firm’s clients include those in the Sonoma County wine and agricultural industries, manufacturing and high-tech fields, according to the company’s website.
Watters said Evans’ work for the firm in 2011 involved a single client and took about a week of her time. He declined to identify the client or say what kind of case it was.
“I can tell you this has nothing to do with any state business of any kind. This is simply a personal matter related to a local client,” he said.
An attorney for the Edgar Law Firm, which specializes in personal injury cases, did not return several messages seeking comment.
McCuan said Evans should disclose the full roster of her clients because the public demands that kind of transparency. “It’s not just what is legal or required,” he said.