Advisory Opinion No. 2002-45

Re: John J. Flynn, Esq.

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a West Warwick School Committee member, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may join a law firm that serves as the West Warwick Town Solicitor, during or immediately following the expiration of his term of office on the School Committee.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a West Warwick School Committee member, a municipal elected position, may join a law firm that serves as the West Warwick Town Solicitor prior to the expiration of his term of office, given that School Committee retains its own legal counsel and is not represented by the Town Solicitor.

The petitioner represents that he is an elected member of the West Warwick School Committee and does not plan to seek re-election in November 2002. He is considering joining a law firm that serves as the West Warwick Town Solicitor. As Town Solicitor, the firm’s duties include having a representative present at Town Council meetings. Additionally, the Town has hired two solo practitioners to serve as its district and municipal court prosecutor and to represent the Planning and Zoning Boards. He represents that neither he nor the firm at issue has a professional relationship with these individuals. Further, he maintains that the firm does not perform legal work for the School Committee, which retains its own legal counsel. He indicates that he does not anticipate handling any of the firm’s duties for the Town Council while serving the remainder of his term on the School Committee.

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). He may not use his public position or confidential information received through his position to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law. R.I. Gen. Law § 36-14-5(d). Further, the Code 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). The Code prohibits him from representing himself or any other person before an 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. Law § 36-14-5(e). Finally, Commission Regulation 36-14-5008 prohibits the petitioner from acting as an attorney or agent for compensation before municipal entities over which he exercises fiscal or jurisdictional control in any matter in which the municipality has an interest or is a party.

The petitioner wishes to accept employment with a law firm serving as the West Warwick Town Solicitor. In its capacity as Town Solicitor, the firm does not perform legal services for the School Committee, which is represented by independent counsel. The petitioner does not anticipate handling any of the firm’s Solicitor duties during his remaining term of office, and the School Committee does not exercise any fiscal or jurisdictional control over the Town Council. Accordingly, the Code of Ethics does not prohibit the petitioner’s employment by a law firm serving as Town Solicitor during his remaining term of office or immediately thereafter. See A.O. 98-120 (concluding that the Narragansett Town Solicitor and/or members of his law firm may represent a private client before the Narragansett School Committee, given that he is appointed by the Town Council and exercises no authority over the School Committee, which retains its own legal counsel). However, the petitioner is prohibited from appearing before the School Committee during the remainder of his term and for a period of one-year following the expiration of his term in accordance with R.I. Gen. Law § 36-14-5(e)(4).

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(b)
36-14-5(d)
36-14-5(e)
36-14-5008

Related Advisory Opinions:

98-120
98-80
97-16
96-88
96-10

Keywords:

Private employment
Revolving Door