Advisory Opinion No. 97-141

Re: John J. Harrington, Esq.


A private attorney, independently retained by the Warwick City Council to provide legal research, draft legislation and advise the Council, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may represent private clients before the Zoning Board and other municipal boards.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics does not bar a private attorney, independently retained by the City Council, from representing private clients before the Zoning Board and other municipal boards as the Petitioner is an independent contractor not subject to the existing Code of Ethics.

Under R.I. Gen. Law, § 36-14-4, those persons subject to the Code of Ethics include (a) state and municipal elected officials; (b) state and municipal appointed officials; and (c) employees of state and local government, of boards, Commissions, and agencies. Here, the Petitioner is not an employee of the City Council. He is not the City Solicitor and has no association with the Solicitor. He serves the Council as contractually retained outside legal counsel, performing legal research, as well as drafting legislation and providing legal advice. The Petitioner is not on the City payroll and receives no municipal employee benefits in his capacity as independent counsel. Furthermore, he is contractually retained, rather than appointed. See R.I. Gen. Laws, § 36-14-2(3).

The Rhode Island Superior Court has ruled that contractually retained legal services do not constitute “employment” as the term is defined in the Code of Ethics. Suzanne Worrell Gemma, et al. v. Rhode Island Ethics Commission, No. 94-3404(R.I. Sup. Ct. filed Sept. 17, 1994); See R.I. Gen. Law, § 36-14-5(0). The Petitioner is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Code of Ethics because he serves the Council as an independent contractor rather than an as an employee.

Code Citations:



Related Advisory Opinions:


Related Case Law:

Gemma v. R.I. Ethics Commission, No. 94-3404 (R.I. Sup. Ct. filed September 17, 1994)


Code jurisdiction