Attorneys get paid to want a big new store—across town

Attorneys get paid to want a big new store—across town

This is what gives lawyers a bad name: a bunch of them e-mail a legislative body in support of a controversial new Wal-Mart but somehow forget to mention that their firm represents the big box retailer. And two of them send identical e-mails. Oops.

So when Rose Drupiewski, Justin Wilson and John Faldetta contacted the entire Metro Council—from Yahoo! accounts—to let them know what a good idea the proposed Super Wal-Mart in south Davidson County is, something seemed a little fishy. Especially considering that Drupiewski lives in East Nashville and Wilson and Faldetta live in West Nashville—nowhere near the proposed mega-store. When the latter two crave cheap crap, they can patronize the Super Wal-Mart on Charlotte Pike; Drupiewski has to settle for a regular-sized Wal-Mart in Madison.

Turns out, all three concerned citizens are attorneys at Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, and they—along with a fourth corresponding counselor, James Weaver—all took it upon themselves to send e-mails supporting the new store a couple of weeks ago within two hours of each other. Great minds think alike, it seems.

They also write alike. "My name is [so-and-so] and I live at [wherever]," both Drupiewski and Faldetta wrote, filling in the respective blanks. They proceeded to recite the same five paragraphs—just like grade school—before signing off with a dose of bona fide sincerity: "Since opposition is always louder than proponents for a project, I am asking for your help. Please vote for Substitute Ordinance No. BL2004-469. I really feel this will be a great project for that part of town and would appreciate your support."

"Someone had mentioned it in the office," Drupiewski tells the Scene, "but I sent it on my own.... I would like more Wal-Marts in the area." She says there was no orchestrated campaign at the corporate firm's downtown office to lobby the council anonymously. With the exact same e-mail. (Weaver, to his credit, used his work e-mail account to send his independently worded missive.)

Attorneys aren't required to register as lobbyists when they contact the council about a client, so there's technically nothing improper about what the attorneys did. But council legal advisor Don Jones says most usually mention their relationships with the clients. "Generally, when they're speaking before the council, they disclose it," he says. Apparently the norms are different for e-mail.

Luckily, the Metro Council has an attorney or two, and at-large member David Briley used his well-honed legal skills to outwit the Wal-Mart lawyers. "Dear Counselors," he wrote in reply, "Is it civic duty or some other duty at work?" The council member then quoted a passage from the Waller Lansden Web site naming the "the world's largest retailer" as a client. "You know that attorneys are exempt from the obligation to register as lobbyists at the Council. You could have used your Waller e-mail addresses as James Weaver did."

In an apparent reference to the Charlotte Pike Super Wal-Mart, Briley wrote, "Justin—Bellevue is closer to your home." He continued, "Rose—East Nashville is 30 minutes from Old Hickory and Nolensville Road. There is a good Mexican restaurant on the opposite corner next to the Kroger (La Terraza). You should try it if you have not been out there before.

"Otherwise, I appreciate your comments and will consider them appropriately. Councilman David Briley."

No word on whether Drupiewski has been to La Terraza yet.


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