Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1997-19

Advisory Opinion No. 1997-19
Advisory Opinion No. 1997-19

Application Of The Code To The Private Practice Of Law By
The Speaker Of The House

The Honorable Thomas D. Ritter, Speaker of the House, is an attorney and has represented a private company, American Ash. Speaker Ritter has asked a series of questions regarding this outside employment.

First, the Speaker has asked whether he may practice law, and represent American Ash before the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA), a quasi-public agency. The Code prohibits any legislator from representing another, for compensation before thirteen specific state agencies. These agencies are listed in Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(d). CRRA is not so listed. Therefore, pursuant to this section, the Speaker may practice law before CRRA.

Second, the Speaker has asked whether he may work for a client who, in turn, does work with CRRA. Again, there is no specific section of the Code, which prohibits the Speaker from representing a client which interacts with state agencies, including CRRA.

However, the Code of Ethics for Public Officials does contain general rules which regulate outside employment activity which impairs one’s independence of judgment as to one’s official duties or which would be deemed a use of one’s office for personal financial gain. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(b), 1-84(c). Although the Commission has historically been reluctant to restrict the outside employment activities of part-time members of the General Assembly, it has ruled that it would be a use of one’s office for the Chairperson of a legislative committee to represent clients before the state agencies over which it has jurisdiction. See Commission Advisory Opinion Nos. 87-13, 49 CLJ 20, p. 1C, (11/17/87), 88-9, 49 CLJ 48, p. 5D (5/31/88), 89-7, 50 CLJ 35, p.8C (2/28/89). It has applied this standard only in situations where the legislator wields such broad powers that an inadvertent use of office could not be avoided. It has not so restricted any other member of the General Assembly. Although it may be argued that the Speaker, and similarly the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, wield even greater power than individual committee chairpersons, it would be too far-reaching a restriction on a part-time legislator to prohibit the Speaker’s appearances per se before all state agencies. The Commission will, therefore, only consider it a use of office, pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c), or outside employment which impairs his independence of judgment, pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(b), when the legislator represents a client before an agency over which the individual has specific and direct authority. See State Ethics Commission Declaratory Ruling No. 89-D (6/5/89)(Since it would result in such a broad restriction, the Commission ruled that a legislative change would be a more appropriate means of prohibiting judiciary committee chairperson from appearing before the courts of the state, unless the legislator was taking part in the reappointment process of a judge before whom he had a pending case).

Third, the Speaker has asked whether he may make a telephone inquiry to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regarding the general status of ash recycling in Connecticut. Although DEP is one of the prohibited agencies listed in 1-84(d), the Commission has previously ruled that generic inquiries, such as this, are permissible, as long as the individual does not reveal the private representation or attempt to influence the agency’s actions for the benefit of your private client. Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies, 1-81-18(b).

Finally, the Speaker’s Chief of Staff and one of his appointees to CRRA, Bernie Sullivan, has, in the past, approached the Chairperson of the legislative committee on Environmental Protection, Representative Jesse Stratton, regarding matters of concern to CRRA and specifically to discuss the status of ash recycling. The Speaker has asked if this conduct is permitted. Mr. Sullivan is not prohibited, under the Code, from discussing such issues with Representative Stratton, as part of his CRRA duties. Additionally, it is not an inherent conflict of interests, under the Code of Ethics, for Mr. Sullivan to serve as Chief of Staff and to also serve on CRRA.

By order of the Commission,

Maurice FitzMaurice

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:02:03 AM