Advisory Opinion No. 99-6

Re: H. Norman Knickle, Esq.

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a legislator serving as a State Representative, a state elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may represent family members before the state division of taxation regarding an audit that has not yet been completed.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a legislator serving as a State Representative, a state elected position, may represent his family members in their capacity as shareholders or officers of two Rhode Island corporations before the state division of taxation under the limited circumstances of this advisory opinion.

The petitioner states that in his private practice of law, he has been representing his sister and parents in their capacity as shareholders or officers of two Rhode Island corporations in an audit before the state division of taxation. Under the Code of Ethics, specifically, Regulation 5008, the petitioner is prohibited from acting as an attorney or agent for compensation before agencies over whom he has fiscal and jurisdictional control. When the petitioner is sworn in as a State Representative in January, he will have fiscal and jurisdictional control over the state division of taxation and would be prohibited from representing clients before that department under the terms of the regulation.

The Commission has issued only two advisory opinions waiving this provision. In Advisory Opinion 95-30, the Commission concluded that a Town Councilor who was named as an Executor in a will for a longstanding client could appear in Probate Court given the Councilor's representation that he would recuse on matters concerning the Probate Court Judges during the pendency of the terms of the judges who sat on the Court at that time and before whom he would appear in his capacity as Executor. In Advisory Opinion 92-55, the Commission advised a State Representative, also an attorney, that she could continue to represent two individuals in connection with matters pending before the Department of Environmental Management, at the adjudication stage particularly since a withdrawal from the cases at that stage would result in an undue financial hardship for her clients to obtain new counsel and also because her representation began prior to the promulgation of Regulation 5008.

This particular instance also warrants special consideration. The Representative is representing family members in a matter that has been pending before the state taxation division. We do not believe that the objectives of the regulation in protecting state departments from improper influence from those that control their pursestrings will be thwarted by this waiver given its limited nature.

Code Citations:

36-14-5008

Related Advisory Opinions:

92-55
95-30

Keywords:

Acting as agent