Arkansas City’s newly-appointed interim city attorney, Larry Schwartz, said in a phone interview Wednesday that he doesn’t anticipate any problems in his new role.
Schwartz also is the county attorney, elected in 2016 by voters after he won the Republican primary and faced no opposition in the general election.
In that job, he earns a salary of $72,500 and oversees an office of seven other full-time employees and one part-time, with a budget of $411,000. The office handles all criminal cases in the 19th Judicial District, with courtrooms in Winfield and Ark City.
Schwartz was appointed during a special city commission meeting Tuesday to serve as city attorney for a term of 90 days, while the city seeks a permanent successor to follow Tamara Niles, who resigned last week after 14 years.
Before agreeing to take on the new responsibilities, Schwartz said he looked carefully at his duties with the county and considered the capabilities of his office staff and their ability to take on any extra load.
While his duties with the city will require more time out of the office, he said was convinced both jobs would be manageable.
“I feel privileged to have the opportunity,” he said during a phone interview Wednesday.
His workload as county attorney was also on the minds of at least one city commissioner on Tuesday. Mayor Jay Warren asked Schwartz if he thought he had the time to handle both.
Schwartz said he did, especially “with the recent hiring of a person who is doing a really good job for our office and has been very helpful.”
Schwartz signed an agreement for $3,000 per month as municipal court prosecutor, and another $2,000 per month for up to 30 hours for civil legal work for the city. Schwartz also can bill the city for $125 per hour for time beyond 30 hours per month.
On Wednesday, Schwartz was asked about any possible conflict of interest between his duties as the county attorney and the city attorney. He admitted that it was a possibility, but said that same conflict could exist with any attorney.
“Every attorney has to have more than one client, and there is always potential for conflict,” he said.
There is no legal conflict to being both the county attorney and city attorney, according to two Kansas Attorney General opinions dating back several decades, although those opinions appear to contemplate the county attorney as counsel to county government more than as a criminal prosecutor.
A 1979 opinion added that, “An attorney holding both offices must be alert to those instances where a conflict of interest is likely to develop and exercise sound professional judgment in determining the propriety of continued representation of both local governments.”
Schwartz pointed out that the previous city attorney also represents the school board, which sets up a potential conflict of interest.
“In that case, you get substitute counsel,” he said. “But like I say, no matter who you get you are going to have potential conflict.”
Schwartz said that anyone who takes on the position of city attorney would likely also have a full-time practice as well.
“That’s sort of the nature of the practice of law,” he said. “You take your clients and you manage your time.”
City Manager Nick Hernandez said Tuesday that most of the work Schwartz would handle for the city would be as the prosecutor in municipal court. He doesn’t anticipate a heavy workload on the civil side.
“He’ll attend the commission meetings, but he won’t attend management meetings or anything like that,” Hernandez said.
The contract also contains a provision to allow Schwartz to leave the position after 30 days if necessary, and for Schwartz to help the city find a permanent successor to Niles if asked.
On Wednesday, Hernandez said a major reason he recommended Schwartz was because, as a prosecutor, Schwartz could easily step into the municipal court role.
“Also, he’s got a good grasp on how the police department works,” Hernandez said. “Our police chief, our officers have a great working relationship with him, so it’s kind of a natural fit for a temporary basis.”
Hernandez added that a conflict of interest could arise if a defense attorney were filling in at municipal court, because they might have a client who was being prosecuted.