Advisory Opinion No. 2000-8

Re: Robert A. Watson, Esq.

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a legislator serving as State Representative, a state elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may represent a private client before the Batterers Intervention Program Standards Oversight Committee (BIPSOC) where the client is the Director of a program subject to the BIPSOC’s oversight.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics does not prohibit the petitioner, a legislator serving as State Representative, a state elected position, from representing a private client before the Batterers Intervention Program Standards Oversight Committee (BIPSOC), given that the legislature does not exercise fiscal or jurisdictional control over the BIPSOC. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5008.

The petitioner advises that he wishes to appear before the Batterers Intervention Program Standards Oversight Committee (BIPSOC) to represent the Director of a program that is subject to the BIPSOC’s oversight. In 1997, the General Assembly enacted several amendments to the Domestic Violence Prevention Act, requiring that all domestic violence offenders attend a batterers’ intervention program that is certified as meeting minimum standards. The revised statute established the BIPSOC, a thirteen member Committee which certifies programs, investigates and decides appeals, complaints, variances and post-enrollment certification. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 12-29-5.1, 5.2. However, the statute does not provide for the BIPSOC’s funding, the cost of which primarily is absorbed by the Department of Corrections. The Director of the Department of Corrections serves as the BIPSOC’s Chairperson.

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. R.I. Gen. Law § 36-14-5(a). The Code further prohibits him from accepting other employment which will impair his independence of judgment as to his official duties. R.I. Gen. Law § 36-14-5(b). Finally, Commission Regulation 36-14-5008 prohibits him from acting as attorney or agent for compensation before agencies over which he exercises fiscal or jurisdictional control. Fiscal control includes the authority to approve or allocate funds or benefits for the applicable state entity. Jurisdictional control includes serving as the entity’s appointing authority, appellate body or other substantive control in connection with the operation of the state entity.

The Commission concludes that the petitioner may represent a private client before the Batterers Intervention Program Standards Oversight Committee (BIPSOC) given that, in his capacity as a legislator, he exercises no fiscal or jurisdictional control over that entity. The statute which created the BIPSOC did not provide for its funding. The legislature also does not serve as the appointing authority, appellate body, or have substantive control over the operation of BIPSOC. Therefore, absent some additional factor, his representation of a private client before the BIPSOC does not otherwise implicate any provisions of the Code of Ethics. During the course of the petitioner’s representation of his client, however, if any matters involving the BIPSOC and/or its funding appear before him in his official capacity, he must recuse from participation and/or vote on such issues. Notice of recusal should be filed both with the Ethics Commission and the legislature in accordance with R.I. Gen. Law § 36-14-6.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(b)
36-14-6
36-14-5008

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-29
99-23
98-120
98-80
98-2
97-40
97-16
96-103
96-44
95-38
95-19
94-63

Keywords:

Acting as agent
Private employment