Advisory Opinion No. 2000-1

Re: Thomas H. Caruolo, Esq.

In response to your letter dated December 13, 1999, requesting an Advisory Opinion, and pursuant to Code of Ethics § 36-l4-11, the Rhode Island Ethics Commission rendered an opinion at its meeting on January 11, 2000. The formal Advisory Opinion, which is set out below, is consistent with the informal opinion letter issued to you by the Commission staff on January 6, 2000.

The Commission voted as follows:

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, the Cranston Director of the Department of Community Development, a municipal appointed position, who also is a former Cranston Probate Court Judge, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may engage in private law practice before the Cranston Probate and Municipal Courts.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, the Cranston Director of the Department of Community Development, a municipal appointed position, and who also is a former Cranston Probate Court Judge, a municipal appointed position may engage in private law practice before the Municipal Court immediately and before the Cranston Probate Court following one year from his official severance from that position. This conclusion is based on (1) that the petitioner resigned from his position as Cranston Probate Court in January 1999; (2) that the petitioner will not provide representation on matters that were under his review as Probate Judge; (3) that the petitioner’s public responsibilities do not concern matters before either the Probate or the Municipal Court; (4) that the petitioner was appointed by the Mayor whereas the Probate and Municipal Court Judges were appointed by the City Council; and (5) that the petitioner performs his private work on his own time and without use of public resources.

Under the Code of Ethics, the petitioner may not have an interest or engage in any employment or professional activity that is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a) and 7(a). The Code further provides that he shall not engage in any employment that would impair his independence of judgment as to his public duties. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(b). He is prohibited from using his public position or confidential information received through his position to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d). The Code also prohibits him from representing himself or any other person before the agency of which he is a member or by which he is employed and for one year after leaving the public position. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(e).

The petitioner’s official duties relate to administration of federal community development block grants and do not include interaction with the Probate or Municipal Courts, nor does he otherwise exercise any control or authority over said entities. Additionally, the petitioner represents that he severed his position as Cranston Probate Court Judge in January 1998. Accordingly, his representation of private clients before the Probate or Municipal Court do not otherwise implicate any provisions of the Code of Ethics provided that the representation does not involve matters that were under his review as Probate Judge and that he does not use public resources or time to conduct his private practice.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(b)
36-14-5(d)
36-14-5(e)

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-68
99-23
98-120
98-80
98-67
98-42
97-16
96-96
96-53
96-22
96-1
90-65

Keywords:

Private employment