Attorney General Edwin Meese III met with top executives of Pacific Telesis, a San Francisco-based regional telephone company, while holding legal title to stock in the company, a Pacific Telesis spokesman said yesterday.
Spokesmen for four of the seven regional companies in which Meese and his wife, Ursula, held stock have said their officials met with Meese to discuss restrictions imposed on their operations under the terms of the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. (AT&T) breakup.
Pacific Telesis spokesman Mary Hallisy said Meese met July 9, 1985 -- about four months after becoming attorney general -- with company chairman Donald Guinn, executive vice president Arthur Latno, and then-general counsel Robert Dalenberg.
Hallisy had said Friday that she knew of no such contact but said yesterday that further checking disclosed the July meeting. Meese also met in late 1985 and 1986 with the top officials of Bell Atlantic, BellSouth and Ameritech.
At the time, Meese and his wife held legal title to 17 shares in each of the seven "Baby Bells," which were formed as a result of the breakup of AT&T in 1984. Meese had reported the stock as sold in May 1985 and instructed subordinates that he was therefore "no longer disqualified from participating in any matter" involving them.
However, Meese revealed last July that, although he signed a document then transferring all "right, title and interest" in the stock to his investment adviser, W. Franklyn Chinn, he could not locate the stock certificates and therefore still held legal title to the stock. The stock was worth about $14,000 when the Meeses eventually sold it in August.
Independent counsel James C. McKay is investigating whether Meese's involvement in telephone company issues violated the conflict of interest law, according to sources familiar with the probe.
The law bars an official from taking part "personally and substantially . . . through decision, approval, disapproval, recommendation, the rendering of advice, investigation, or otherwise" in any matter in which "to his knowledge, he . . . has a financial interest."
Nathan Lewin, Meese's attorney, dismissed suggestions that Meese's actions constituted a conflict of interest as "ridiculous."
"The whole thing is not even a tempest in a teapot," Lewin said. "It's a tempest in a thimble."
He said that Meese did not believe he still owned the stock and that in any case his meetings with the Baby Bell executives and other involvement in telephone company issues did not rise to the level of action covered by the law. Meese received a waiver to participate in future "discussions" involving the regional telephone companies last January.