Advisory Opinion No. 2000-91

Re: Frederick G. Reamer

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a Parole Board member, a state appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may serve for a limited duration as a paid consultant to the Office of the Public Defender to develop policies and procedures relating to its social services unit.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a Parole Board member, a state appointed position, may serve for a limited duration as a paid consultant to the Office of the Public Defender to develop policies and procedures related to its social services unit. However, while serving as a consultant to that agency the petitioner should recuse from participating in any matters in which public defenders represent inmates before the Parole Board.

The petitioner is a Parole Board member who is employed as a Professor by Rhode Island College’s School of Social Work. The Office of the Public Defender recently awarded him a contract, pursuant to an open and public process, to serve as a paid consultant to develop policies and procedures for the Office’s social services unit. The project will entail the submission of a report on issues of confidentiality, informed consent and conflicts of interest. He advises that the project will not involve Parole Board matters and will conclude upon the report’s submission, likely within the next several months. With respect to his Parole Board duties the petitioner represents that the Board conducts approximately 100 hearings a month for eligible inmates, at which they are represented by private counsel. In the past nine years, he recalls that public defenders represented inmates before the Board on two or three occasions due to unique legal issues presented by their sentences.

Under the Code of Ethics, the petitioner may not participate in any matter in which he has an interest, financial or otherwise, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 36-14-7(a). A public official will have an interest in substantial conflict with his official duties if its is likely that a "direct monetary gain" or a direct monetary loss" will accrue, by virtue of the official's activity, to himself, a family member, a business associate, an employer or any business which the official represents. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(a). The petitioner is further prohibited from accepting other employment that will either impair his independence of judgment as to his official duties or employment or require him to disclose confidential information acquired by him in the course of his official duties. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(b). Finally, R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d) prohibits the petitioner from using his public position or confidential information received through his position to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law, for himself, a business associate, employer or any business which he represents.

The Commission concludes that the petitioner may serve as a consultant to the Office of the Public Defender, provided that he recuses from participating in any Parole Board matters involving that agency while serving as a consultant to its social services unit. The consulting work at issue here is limited to drafting policy and procedure for the social services unit and does not involve matters relating to the Parole Board and/or the petitioner’s individual clients. As such, there is no evidence that his outside employment would either impair his independence of judgment or create an interest in substantial conflict with his public duties. Further, based upon the petitioner’s representations, it is not reasonably foreseeable that attorneys from the Office of the Public Defender would represent inmates at hearings before the Parole Board. However, in the event that a public defender represents an inmate in a matter before the Parole Board while the petitioner is serving as a consultant, he is required to recuse from participating in that matter. Notices of recusal should be filed with the Ethics Commission and the Parole Board in accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(b)
36-14-6
36-14-7(a)
36-14-6002

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-10
98-110
98-87
97-45
96-72
95-80

Keywords:

Private employment
Recusal