Complaints and Enforcement

Any person alleging a violation by a public official or employee who is subject to the Code of Ethics may submit a signed, notarized complaint on a form provided by the Commission. A listing of other agencies responsible for enforcing laws relating to attorney and judicial conduct, open meetings and public records, lobbying, elections and campaign finance, can be found at the bottom of this page.

A complaint with the Ethics Commission must name the individual alleged to have violated the Code of Ethics (the "respondent"), identify the respondent's public office, and detail the specific acts which are prohibited by the Code of Ethics. The Commission also may initiate its own investigations and complaints based on information provided to investigative staff indicating a possible violation of the Code of Ethics.  The full complaint process is described below.

Prior Decisions & Orders following adjudications and Settlements/Orders issued by the Ethics Commission regarding Complaint Matters from 1998 to the present are available on the Commission's web site; older documents are available by contacting the Commission at or (401) 222-3790.

Filing a Complaint

Person who wish to file a formal complaint are encouraged to contact the Commission at any time by telephone at 222-3790 to speak with a member of the Investigative Staff during Commission office hours, 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Those contemplating filing a complaint may also arrange to come in during office hours and discuss with Investigative Staff the procedure, the substance of the potential complaint, or any other questions they might have before actually filing a complaint. While those considering filing a complaint are encouraged to speak with the Commission's investigative staff first, it is not mandatory to do so prior to the actual filing of a complaint. Formal complaints must be filed on an official complaint form, which will be provided upon request during regular office hours.  Please note that the person filing the complaint (the complainant) is not a party to any action pending before the Ethics Commission.  The complaint will be investigated and prosecuted by Commission staff, representing the People of the State of Rhode Island.

How the Complaint Process Works

All potential complaints are initially reviewed by the Executive Director/Chief Prosecutor to determine whether the submission contains allegations of conduct proscribed by the Code of Ethics.  Within three working days of the acceptance of any properly filed and notarized complaint, the Commission mails copies of the complaint, the Code of Ethics, and Commission regulations to the complainant and the respondent. The Commission thereafter sends timely notices of subsequent Commission actions to the complainant and respondent.

Initial Determination

At this first stage of review, the Ethics Commissioners determine whether the complaint properly alleges facts sufficient to constitute a violation of the law. Meeting in closed executive session, the Commissioners either decide to dismiss the complaint or to initiate an investigation. The decision to investigate does not address the validity of the complaint; rather, it merely indicates that the allegations properly fall under the provisions of the Code of Ethics. Neither the complainant nor the respondent participates in the initial determination.

Informal Resolution and Settlement

At any time subsequent to an Initial Determination of the Complaint, the Prosecution and the Respondent may seek an informal disposition through an agreed settlement, consent order, or other informal resolution of the pending Complaint. This may entail the parties meeting for an informal conference to seek such informal disposition. The informal conference shall not be used as evidence in any subsequent proceeding. Any informal disposition of a pending Complaint shall be subject to the approval of the Commission. Once approved by the Commission, the Informal Resolution and Settlement Agreement and any Orders issuing regarding the Complaint become public documents.


The Commission may issue subpoenas to compel the production of evidence or the attendance of witnesses. Staff Investigators may take oral or written evidence under oath or affirmation. An investigation must be completed within 180 days after the complaint is filed, unless the Commission approves an extension for good cause, with a maximum of two such 60-day extensions. Investigative Reports compiled by staff become public records after a probable cause hearing has been completed.

Probable Cause Hearing

The respondent is mailed a copy of the Investigative Report at least 14 days prior to a scheduled hearing. At the hearing, the prosecution presents the results of the investigation. The Commission reviews the Investigative Report of the prosecution as well as any answer or other information submitted by the respondent. The meeting is closed to the public, but the respondent and respondent's counsel may be present. The Commission may then vote to dismiss the complaint for lack of evidence, or find that probable cause exists to support the allegations and/or amend the complaint if the investigation reveals probable cause exists to believe that other violations of the Code of Ethics have occurred.

Adjudicative Hearing

If the Commission finds that probable cause exists to support the allegations, an adjudicative hearing is scheduled, with at least 15 days prior notice to the respondent. This is an adversarial hearing. The prosecutor and the respondent may present evidence and examine witnesses. Additionally, Commissioners may question witnesses. Rules of evidence are followed, regulations provide for discovery, and principles of due process govern all procedures. A stenographic record is kept and the hearing is conducted in an open and public session.

Final Disposition

The Commission meets in closed session to deliberate and determine whether there has been a knowing and willful violation of the Code of Ethics. Upon a finding of violation, the Commission may: (a) issue a cease and desist order; (b) require the respondent to file any statement mandated by the Ethics Code; (c) impose a civil fine of up to $25,000 per violation and the return of any unjust enrichment; (d) or, for egregious violations, remove from office any official not subject to impeachment.

Fines and Enforcement

The Ethics Commission is empowered, pursuant to the Rhode Island Constitution, Article III, § 8, with the "authority to investigate violations of the code of ethics and to impose penalties, as provided by law . . . ." Additionally, Commission Regulation 1020 as to "Enforcement" states that the Commission may, upon a finding that there has been a violation of the Code of Ethics, issue an order that, among other things, may "require such violator to pay a civil penalty of not more than twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00) for each such violation of the Code of Ethics and the pecuniary value of any unjust enrichment realized by the violator as the result of his or her violation of the Code of Ethics . . . ." The imposition of such penalty may accrue either through the completion of an adjudicatory proceeding and subsequent penalty imposed on the violator by the Commission or by way of an agreed upon Informal Resolution and Settlement between the parties, which has been approved by the Commission. Fines collected by the Commission are thereafter deposited in the State of Rhode Island General Fund. Violators subject to a penalty may further be subject to collection action in instances of failure to timely pay.

Whistleblower Protection

Complainants and witnesses have rights under the Rhode Island Whistleblower Act, R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 28-50-1 to 28-50-9 and may also bring a civil action in Superior Court within three years after being threatened or intimidated in any proceeding before the Ethics Commission.

Frivolous Complaints

The Code of Ethics provides that "no person shall knowingly and willfully make a false or frivolous complaint under this chapter." R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(k).


All Final Orders of the Commission are subject to review by the Rhode Island Superior and Supreme Courts pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act.

For more information see: R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-12 to § 36-14-15 and 520-RICR-00-00-3. et seq. (available on this website under the Code of Ethics tab) or call the Commission at 401-222-3790.

Other Enforcement Agencies

The Ethics Commission's enforcement jurisdiction is focused on investigating and adjudicating violations of the Code of Ethics.  Other state agencies are primarily responsible for regulating the general practice of law and conduct of judges, open meetings and public records, lobbyist disclosures, conduct of elections, and campaign finance reporting: