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Rhode Island Ethics Commission

Ethics Commission – Establishment
Public Forum Exceptions
Additional Officers
Administrative Powers of the Commission
Annual Report Requests
Education Powers of the Commission
Advisory Powers of the Commission
Investigative Powers of the Commission
Adjudicative Powers of the Commission
Removal Powers of the Commission
Judicial Review

R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-8 Rhode Island Ethics Commission - Establishment-Members - Vacancies - Quorum - Compensation and quarters.

(a) There is hereby established an independent and nonpartisan Rhode Island ethics commission composed of nine (9) members appointed by the governor. The president of the senate, the minority leader of the senate, the speaker of the house of representatives, the majority leader of the house of representatives, and the minority leader of the house of representatives shall, within twenty (20) days of July 21, 1992, each submit to the governor a list of names of at least five (5) individuals. The governor shall, within forty (40) days of July 21, 1992, appoint one individual from each of the lists so submitted and four (4) individuals without regard to the lists submitted by the legislative leaders.

(b) Members of the commission shall serve for terms of five (5) years, except that, of the members first appointed:

(1) The individual appointed from the list submitted by the majority leader of the house of representatives shall serve for one year;

(2) The individuals appointed from the lists submitted by the minority leader of the senate and one of the individuals appointed by the governor without regard to the lists submitted by the legislative leaders shall serve for two (2) years;

(3) The individual appointed from the list submitted by the minority leader of the house of representatives and one of the individuals appointed by the governor without regard to the lists submitted by the legislative leaders shall serve for three (3) years;

(4) The individual appointed from the list submitted by the president of the senate and one of the individuals appointed from the list submitted by the minority leader of the house of representatives shall serve for four (4) years; and

(5) The individual appointed from the list submitted by the speaker of the house of representatives and one of the individuals appointed from the list submitted by the minority leader of the senate shall serve for five (5) years.

(c) No member shall be appointed for more than one full five (5) year term; provided, however, that each member shall continue to serve until his or her successor is appointed and qualified; and, provided further, that if, at the time of the expiration of any member's term, that member is actively engaged in the adjudication of a complaint, he or she shall continue to serve in that capacity until the commission has completed its responsibilities with respect to that complaint.

(d) The governor shall, at the time of the initial appointments to the commission, designate one member to act as chairperson of the commission for a period of one year and another to act as vice chairperson of the commission for a period of one year. Thereafter, the commission shall elect a chairperson and a vice chairperson. The vice chairperson shall act as chairperson in the absence of the chairperson or in the event of a vacancy in that position.

(e) Any vacancy on the commission, occurring for any reason prior to the expiration of the term, shall be filled for the unexpired term by the appointing authority in the same manner as the original appointment within thirty (30) days of the vacancy occurring.

(f) No individual, while a member or employee of the commission, including any legal counsel engaged by the commission, shall:

(1) Hold or campaign for any other public office;

(2) Hold office in any political party or political committee;

(3) Participate in or contribute to any political campaign;

(4) Directly or indirectly attempt to influence any decision by a governmental body, other than as the duly authorized representative of the commission on a matter within the jurisdiction of the commission;

(5) Have held elective public office or have been a candidate for elective public office for a one year period prior to appointment.

(6) Have any equity interest or ownership interest in, or be employed by a business entity that derives any of its revenue or income by engaging in lobbying, as defined in chapter 22-10 and chapter 42-139.

(g) The governor shall declare vacant the position on the commission of any member who takes part in activities prohibited by subsection (f) of this section. An individual appointed to fill a vacancy occurring other than by the expiration of a term of office shall be appointed for the unexpired term of the member he or she succeeds, and is eligible for appointment to one full five-year term thereafter. Any vacancy occurring on the commission shall be filled within thirty (30) days in the manner in which that position was originally filled.

(h) For any action to be taken under the terms of this chapter by the full commission, five (5) members of the commission shall constitute a quorum.

(i) Commission members shall not be compensated for attendance at meetings of the commission or of any investigating committee or adjudicative panel of the commission.

(j) All departments and agencies of the state or of any city or town or political subdivision within this state shall furnish such advice or information documentary or otherwise, to the commission and its agents as is deemed necessary or desirable by the commission to facilitate the purposes of this chapter.

(k) The director of administration is hereby authorized and directed to provide suitable quarters for the commission.

(l) When commission members act in good faith within the scope of their authority and in their official capacities they shall be afforded protection against civil liability as provided in § 9-1-31.1.

Regulation 36-14-8001 Public forum exceptions.

The prohibitions contained in R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-8(f) and regulations thereto shall in no way be construed to limit or prevent any individual who is a member or employee of the Commission from publicly expressing his or her own viewpoints in a public forum on any matter of general public interest or on any matter which directly affects said individual or his or her spouse or dependent child, unless otherwise specifically prohibited by this chapter.

Regulation 36-14-8002 Additional officers.

There shall be a secretary elected in accordance with section 36-14-8(d) herein.

In the event of the absence of both the chairperson and the vice chairperson, the secretary shall preside. An assistant secretary pro tem shall act as secretary in the event of the secretary presiding at the meeting or in the event of the secretary's absence.

R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-9 Administrative powers of the Commission.

(a) The Commission is hereby empowered to:

(1) Engage the services of an executive director and of such other legal, secretarial, and investigative employees, who shall be bound by the prohibitions contained in section 36-14-8 (f), and to make such other expenditures as are necessary for the effective performance of its functions;

(2) Separately retain the services of independent legal counsel, who shall be bound by the prohibitions contained in section 36-14-8(f) and who shall remain independent of the executive director and other Commission employees.

(3) Prescribe and publish, after notice and public hearings, rules and regulations to carry out the provisions of this chapter;

(4) Prescribe forms for statements and reports required to be filed by this chapter and furnish such forms to persons required to file such statements and reports;

(5) Prepare and publish a manual setting forth recommended uniform methods of accounting and reporting for use by persons required to file statements and reports by this chapter;

(6) Accept and file any information voluntarily supplied that exceeds the requirements of this chapter;

(7) Compile and maintain an index of all reports and statements filed with the Commission to facilitate public access to the reports and statements;

(8) Prepare and publish quarterly and annually summaries of statements and reports filed with the Commission;

(9) Review all statements and reports filed with the Commission in order to ascertain whether any person has failed to file a required statement or has filed a deficient statement;

(10) Preserve statements and reports filed with the Commission for a period of five (5) years from date of receipt;

(11) Prepare and publish special reports and technical studies to further the purposes of this chapter; and

(12) Prepare and publish, prior to April lst of each year, an annual report summarizing the activities of the Commission, including but not limited to the:

(i) Number of disclosure statements filed;

(ii) Subjects of advisory opinions requested and issued;

(iii)Number of complaints filed, investigated and/or adjudicated;

(13) Have a seal and the members and executive director and assistant clerks thereof shall have authority and power to administer oaths and affirmations;

(14) Educate public officials, employees and citizens on ethical standards as embodied in the Code of Ethics by holding regular workshops, seminars, and the like, focusing on the specifics of the Code of Ethics and compliance therewith;

(15) Create publications to explain the ethical conduct expected of officials and employees.

(b) The rulemaking power conferred by subsection (a) (3) of this section shall be subject to, and shall be exercised in conformity with, sections 42-35-2 through 42-35-7, inclusive, entitled "Administrative Procedures."

(c) Unless specifically prohibited, the Commission shall make statements and reports filed with the Commission available for public inspection and copying during regular office hours and make copying facilities available at a charge not to exceed actual cost.

Regulation 36-14-9001 Annual report requests.

On or before the last Friday in December of each year, the Commission shall cause to be mailed, by first class mail, postage prepaid, an inquiry and roster from the then current records of the Commission to the clerk of each city and town and the state. Said inquiry shall include the definitions of those persons subject to the Code of Ethics (section 36-14-2 (1), (2), and (3)), and shall direct the clerk to furnish the title, names and address of those persons subject to the Code of Ethics for each town who do not appear on said roster, and to furnish said information for replacement of any additional persons subject to the code during the next succeeding twelve (12) month period.

R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-10 Education powers of the Commission.

(a) The Commission is hereby empowered to establish and implement an education program for the purpose of educating public officials and employees and the general public about the ethical standards embodied in the Rhode Island Code of Ethics in government, which program may include the preparation and dissemination of brochures and other publications and the conduct of workshops and seminars.

(b) The education program authorized by this section shall be established by the Commission in the exercise of the rulemaking authority conferred by section 36-14-9(a)(3) of this chapter.

(c) The Commission may, by rule or regulation, delegate to its executive director (or other designated employee) such authority as it may deem necessary for the implementation of the educational program authorized by this section.

36-14-10.1. Continuing ethics education -- The commission shall periodically provide a continuing education program on the Rhode Island code of ethics and related laws for major state decision-makers. The program shall be provided at least twice annually and shall consist of continuing education units as established by commission rule and which may be offered through an interactive web-based format. The commission shall provide participants with certificates showing the date and number of continuing education units completed.

Regulation 36-14-10001.

The Commission shall, within 180 days of the adoption of this regulation, establish and appoint a subcommittee of the Commission appointed by the chairperson composed of five (5) Commission members (and the executive director, who shall serve in an ex officio capacity) to implement an appropriate educational program or programs as provided for in this section.

R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-11 Advisory powers of the Commission.

(a) The Commission is hereby empowered to issue, at the request of any person covered by the Rhode Island Code of Ethics in Government, advisory opinions on the requirements of this chapter.

(b) Any advisory opinion rendered pursuant to this section must be approved, prior to issuance, by a majority of the members of the Commission.

(c) Any advisory opinion rendered by the Commission, until amended or revoked by a majority vote of the Commission, shall be binding on the Commission in any subsequent proceedings concerning the person who requested the opinion and who acted in reliance on it in good faith, unless material facts were omitted or misstated by the person in the request for the opinion.

R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-12 Investigative powers of the Commission.

(a) The Commission is hereby empowered to investigate allegations of violations of the provisions of this chapter and, in furtherance of any such investigation, the Commission shall have the power to:

(1) Compel the attendance of witnesses and require the production of evidence; and

(2) Take oral or written evidence under oath or affirmation.

(b) Any person, including any member of the Commission, may file with the Commission a complaint alleging a violation of this chapter. Any such complaint filed with the Commission shall be a statement in writing under oath which shall include the name of the person alleged to have committed the violation and which shall set forth in detail the specific act or acts complained of. The Commission shall, within seventy-two (72) hours of the filing of any complaint, cause a copy of that complaint to be served, by certified mail, returned receipt requested, upon any person alleged in the complaint to have committed a violation of this chapter.

(c) Upon receipt of a written complaint alleging a violation of this chapter, the Commission shall within one hundred eighty (180) days of receipt of the written complaint complete its investigation; provided, that the Commission may, for good cause shown, grant no more than two (2) extensions of sixty (60) days each.

(1) If the Commission determines that the verified complaint does not allege facts sufficient to constitute a knowing and willful violation of any of the provisions of this chapter, it shall dismiss the complaint and notify the complainant and the respondent of such dismissal. The contents and substance of any complaint so dismissed and any answer thereto and the notice of dismissal shall be made public.

(2) If the Commission determines that the verified complaint alleges facts sufficient to constitute a violation of any of the provisions of this chapter, the Commission shall promptly investigate the allegations contained in the complaint and make a finding on the complaint and any amendment thereto.

(3) If the Commission finds after its preliminary investigation that probable cause does not exist to support the allegations of the complaint, the Commission shall dismiss the complaint and notify the complainant and the respondent of such dismissal. The contents and substance of any complaint so dismissed and any answer thereto and the notice of dismissal shall be made public.

(4) If the Commission finds that probable cause does exist to support the allegations of the complaint, it shall prepare written findings which shall state in detail the violations complained of and the manner in which they occurred and shall fix a time for hearing on the matter; provided, however, that, before it issues any findings, the Commission shall permit the respondent to submit a written statement and/or to appear in person or by counsel for the purpose of presenting arguments and/or written evidence in response to the allegations against him or her. The respondent shall be entitled to examine and make copies of all evidence in the possession of the Commission relating to the complaint. Upon the issuance of any such findings, the Commission shall notify the complainant and the respondent of its action.

(5) If the Commission, during the course of its investigation, has probable cause to believe that violations of this chapter, other than those contained in the complaint, have been committed, it may upon its own motion, amend the complaint to include such violations. The Commission shall, within seventy-two (72) hours of any such amendment, cause a copy of the amended complaint to be served, by certified mail, return receipt requested, upon any person alleged in the amended complaint to have committed a violation of this chapter. Any person alleged by such an amended complaint to have committed a violation of this chapter shall be afforded a reasonable opportunity to respond to the allegations contained therein.

(6) Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize the Commission to make any of its investigatory records public.

(d) The commission upon a finding pursuant to this section that there fails to exist probable cause for a violation of this chapter shall issue an order dismissing the complaint, and if it finds the complaint to be frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless, the commission shall require the person filing the complaint to pay a civil penalty of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), all or part of which may be paid to the subject of the complaint in reimbursement of said subject's reasonable expenses of defense.

Regulation 36-14-12001 Preliminary Investigations.

Pursuant to its constitutional authority to investigate violations of the State's Code of Ethics (R.I. Const., art. III, sec. 8) and its statutory empowerment to investigate allegations of violations of the provisions of R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-1, et seq. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-12(a)), the Rhode Island Ethics Commission adopts the following procedures for the preliminary investigation of allegations of violations of the Code of Ethics.

(a) Upon a determination by the Executive Director of the Commission that information provided to and/or in the possession of the Commission and/or its staff establishes a reasonable basis to believe that a state or municipal official or employee, as those terms are defined in R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-1, et seq., may have violated provisions of R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-1, et seq., the State's Code of Ethics, the Executive Director, within a reasonable time, shall provide the Commission with written notification that a preliminary investigation has been initiated including the date the preliminary investigation file was opened, the subject(s) and/or subject matter of the preliminary investigation, and the nature and source(s) of the information that establishes a reasonable basis that a state or municipal official or employee may have violated provisions of R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-1, et seq., the State's Code of Ethics.

(b) All files, documents or other materials relating to a preliminary investigation, including but not limited to written notifications, pleadings, records of counsel and investigators, subpoenas and pleadings requesting the issuance of subpoenas, documentary evidence, and records of witness statements, whether written or recorded by other means, shall remain confidential, except as follows:

(1) the Commission, itself or through its Executive Director, may at any time grant access to any information related to and/or obtained during a preliminary investigation to any federal, state or municipal law enforcement agency;

(2) the Commission, itself or through its Executive Director or his/her designee, may in a complaint filed with the Commission pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-12(b) disclose information related to and/or obtained during a preliminary investigation; and,

(3) the Commission, itself or through its Executive Director or his/her designee, shall disclose information related to and/or obtained during a preliminary investigation in accordance with the provisions of R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-12(c)(4).

(c) In accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-12(a)(1) the Commission, its Executive Director or his/her designee, through the issuance of subpoenas, may compel the attendance of witnesses and require the production of documents as follows:

(1) no subpoenas may issue until written notification of the initiation of a preliminary investigation is made to the Commission pursuant to subsection (a) of this regulation; and,

(2) issuance of a subpoena(s) as part of a preliminary investigation shall be in accordance with the provisions of Commission Regulation 36-14-1009.

(d) No later than sixty (60) days from the initiation of a preliminary investigation the Executive Director or his/her designee shall complete the preliminary investigation and shall file a report with the full Commission detailing the results of said investigation, including whether or not the Executive Director or his/her designee intends to file a complaint with the Commission pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-12(b) as a result of said investigation. Upon a showing of good cause the Commission may grant an extension of time for the filing of said report.

(e) The only decision made by the Commissioners during the preliminary investigation stage is whether there is good cause for an extension of time. The Commission shall not engage in any review of the substance of the complaint relating to the merits of the complaint.

(f) The Executive Director or designee shall provide the Commission with quarterly reports identifying all open preliminary investigations.

(g) The Executive Director or designee shall provide the Commission with notice when a preliminary investigation is closed without the filing of a complaint.

Regulation 36-14-12002 Time for Investigations.

Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-12(c), upon receipt of a written complaint alleging a violation of this chapter, the Commission shall within one hundred eighty (180) days of the receipt of the written complaint complete its investigation; provided, that the Commission may, for good cause shown, grant no more than two (2) extensions of sixty (60) days each, as follows:

(a) Requests to the Commission for extensions of sixty (60) days to complete investigations shall be submitted in writing to the full Commission by the Executive Director or his/her designee at least fifteen (15) days prior to the expiration of the initial one hundred eighty day (180) period or of an initial sixty (60) day extension, as the case may be.

(b) Requests to the Commission pursuant to subsection (a), above, shall be submitted ex parte to the Commission and determinations of good cause shown shall be made upon a review and consideration of the full record before the Commission at the time the request is made.

(c) All proceedings before the Commission relating to requests for extensions of time pursuant to subsections (a) and (b), above, shall be stenographically transcribed.

(d) Upon completion of the investigation of a complaint, and prior to proceedings by the Commission as to a finding of probable cause regarding allegations of the complaint, all records relating to any determination(s) of extensions for good cause shown, including any stenographic transcripts made pursuant to subsection (c), above, shall be available to the subject of a complaint and/or his/her counsel.

R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-13 Adjudicative powers of the Commission.

(a) The Commission is hereby empowered to adjudicate the merits of allegations of violations of the Rhode Island Code of Ethics.

(1) At such a hearing the Commission shall have the power to compel the attendance of witnesses and require the production of evidence and to take oral or written evidence under oath or affirmation.

(2) Each party shall have the right to be represented by legal counsel; to conduct discovery pursuant to rules, adopted by the Commission in the exercise of its rulemaking authority, which shall provide for the prompt and early exchange of relevant information and otherwise protect each party from unfair surprise during the course of the proceedings; to compel attendance of witnesses; to examine and cross examine opposing witnesses; to introduce exhibits and otherwise to present any matters to the Commission relevant to the complaint;

(3) Oral evidence shall be taken only on oath or affirmation;

(4) There shall be a presumption of innocence on the part of any person alleged to have violated the provisions of this chapter, and the burden of proving that the person has violated the provisions of this chapter shall be upon those who allege the violation or violations;

(5) The hearing shall be open to the public.

(6) Objections to the introduction of evidence may be made and shall be noted in the record.

(7) A stenographic record shall be made of all hearings conducted under the provisions of this section.

(8) At the conclusion of proceedings concerning an alleged violation, the Commission shall immediately begin deliberations on the evidence and then proceed to determine whether there has been a knowing and willful violation of this chapter;

(9) No persons, other than members of the Commission, and independent legal counsel for the limited purpose provided for herein, shall be present during the deliberations of the Commission following any hearing conducted under this section. Counsel may not participate in deliberations of the Commission. Counsel's sole function shall be to respond to questions of law posed by Commission members. A written record shall be maintained of the questions posed to counsel and counsel's responses, which shall become part of the record of proceedings.

(b) In order for the Commission to hold a hearing there must be a quorum of five (5) members. For every two (2) members who must recuse themselves from taking part in a hearing, due to a conflict, the number needed for quorum shall be reduced by one (1).

(c) In order for the Commission to find that there has been a knowing and willful violation of this chapter it shall be necessary that a majority of those Commissioners who attended all hearings, but in no case fewer than three (3) of the members of the Commission, shall vote in the affirmative to so find.

(d) The Commission, upon a finding pursuant to this section that there has been a violation of this chapter, shall issue an order by which it may:

(1) Require that the violator cease and desist violating of the provisions of this chapter; and/or

(2) Require that the violator file any report, statement, or other information as required by this chapter; and/or

(3) Require that the violator pay a civil penalty of not more than twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) for each violation of this chapter and the pecuniary value of any unjust enrichment realized by the violator as the result of his or her violation of this chapter; and/or

(4) Refer the entire record of its proceedings to the attorney general; and/or

(5) Remove such violator from his or her office or position in accordance with the provisions of section 36-14-14 of this chapter, provided such violator is not subject to impeachment.

(e) The Commission shall, in the exercise of the rulemaking authority conferred by section 36-14-9(a)(3), promulgate rules and regulations, consistent with the provisions of this section, for the conduct of adjudicative hearings before any adjudicative panel of the Commission.

(f) Except in those cases referred to the attorney general pursuant to subsection (d)(4) of this section, a final decision of the Commission and the record of proceedings before the Commission upon which the final decision is based shall be made public by the Commission within thirty (30) days after the final decision is rendered.

(g) The commission, upon a finding pursuant to this section that there has not been a violation of this chapter, shall issue an order dismissing the complaint and if it finds the complaint to be frivolous, unreasonable or groundless, the commission shall require the person filing the complaint to pay a civil penalty of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000) all or part of which may be paid to the subject of the complaint in reimbursement of said subject's reaonable expense of defense.

R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-14 Removal powers of the Commission.

(a) The Commission is hereby empowered to remove from office any state or municipal elected official or any state or municipal appointed official not subject to impeachment, in accordance with the provisions of subsections (b) through (d) of this section.

(b) Any state or municipal elected official and any state or municipal appointed official not subject to impeachment may be removed from office if:

(1) The Commission has found, after an adjudicative hearing conducted in accordance with section 36-14-13 of this chapter, that said official has been guilty of a serious, knowing and willful violation of section 36-14-5(c), section 36-14-5(d) or section 36-14-5(g) of this chapter; and

(2) The Commission determines that the violation was committed by the violator either with (i) fraudulent intent to secure the unjust enrichment of himself or another person or (ii) malicious intent to inflict pecuniary or other substantial injury upon another person.

(c) If it determines that such a violation has been committed, it shall conduct a hearing at which the executive director of the Commission or his designee and the respondent or his or her counsel shall be permitted to present additional evidence and arguments relevant to (i) the presence or absence of the specific intent required by subsection (b)(2) of this section as a prerequisite to removal of an official from office and (ii) the presence or absence of aggravating or mitigating circumstances of which the Commission should be aware in rendering its final decision.

(d) The removal power conferred by this section may be exercised only by the affirmative vote of two-thirds (2/3) of the membership of the Commission eligible to participate, but in no case fewer than five (5) affirmative votes.

R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-15 Judicial review.

Any action by the Commission made pursuant to this chapter shall be subject to review pursuant to Chapter 35 of Title 42.