Advisory Opinion No. 98-15

Advisory Opinion No. 98-15

Re: Andrew H. McLeod


The Petitioner, the Chief Legal Counsel for the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), a state employee position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether the Code of Ethics prohibits a Legal Counsel on his staff from representing the Office of Human Resources (OHR) in a discrimination action filed by an employee if the Legal Counsel has a working relationship with the employee at DEM.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics does not prevent a Legal Counsel for the DEM from representing that office in a discrimination action filed by an employee unless that individual has a private business or familial relationship with the complaining employee. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a) and 5(d). Under the Code of Ethics, a public official or employee may not participate in any matter in which he has an interest in substantial conflict with his or her public duties. A substantial conflict of interest exists if the Petitioner has reason to believe or expect that a family member or a business associate will derive a direct monetary gain or loss by reason of his or her official activity. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 36-14-7(a).

Here, there is no evidence that the Legal Counsel and the complaining employee share a private business or familial relationship. Absent such a relationship, the Code of Ethics does not prohibit the Legal Counsel from representing the DEM in the discrimination action. This opinion does not address whether any other statutes or professional rules, such as the Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys and Counselors promulgated by the Rhode Island Supreme Court, prohibit the representation.

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