Advisory Opinion No. 99-62

Re: Gerard R. Laliberte, Esq.

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, an Associate Judge of the Pawtucket Municipal and Housing Court, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may also be appointed as the Pawtucket Housing Authority's legal counsel.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, an Associate Judge of the Pawtucket Municipal and Housing Court, a municipal appointed position, also may be appointed as the Pawtucket Housing Authority's legal counsel.

Various provisions of the Code of Ethics, particularly R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a), (b) and (d), prohibit a public official or employee from having employment or engaging in actions that would either impair his or her independence of judgment or constitute the use of his or her public office to obtain private financial gain. Here, the petitioner represents that the Municipal and Housing Court does not have jurisdiction over any Housing Authority property or any matters directly related to the Housing Authority. Therefore, the Municipal Court and the Housing Authority have sufficiently distinct spheres of responsibilities such that it is unlikely, and at most highly speculative, that the petitioner’s independence of judgment would be affected in either position by virtue of the fact that he also held the other position. In addition, absent some other circumstance, merely holding the two positions simultaneously would not constitute the use of one public office to obtain private financial gain. As such, the petitioner is not prohibited from being appointed to the legal counsel position by the Code provisions referenced above. However, given this relationship there may be occasions where the petitioner may recuse as either Judge or legal counsel because of the Code of Ethics. The petitioner must engage in a matter by matter evaluation and determination as to whether substantial conflicts of interest exist with respect to carrying out his duties in the public interest for purposes of the Code of Ethics. If recusal is required under the Code of Ethics, the petitioner must file a statement of conflict of interest in accordance with Section 6 of the Code.

In addition, the legal counsel for the Pawtucket Housing Authority (Housing Authority) is appointed by the Board of the Housing Authority. The Municipal and Housing Court, where the petitioner presently sits, has no involvement with the hiring process. Therefore, the appointment of the petitioner is not barred by Commission Regulation 5006, which prohibits public officials from receiving compensated appointments from their own agencies.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(b)
36-14-5(d)
36-14-5006

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-2
99-22
98-16
98-37
98-67
98-75
98-99
97-43
97-80
97-126
96-8

Keywords:

Dual Public Roles