Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1999-21

Advisory Opinion No. 1999-21
Advisory Opinion No. 1999-21

Application Of Code Of Ethics For Public Officials To Special Deputy Sheriffs

Eileen F. Meehan, Assistant Director of the Office of the County Sheriffs, has asked whether, and how, the Code of Ethics for Public Officials, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79 et seq., applies to special deputy sheriffs.

The first issue is whether special deputy sheriffs are considered state employees or public officials for purposes of the Code of Ethics. Special deputy sheriffs are appointed by the high sheriff of a county whenever he or she deems such appointments necessary. The special deputies hold their offices for as long as the term of office of the sheriff appointing them, unless sooner removed for just cause after due notice and hearing. Conn. Gen. Stat. 6-43. As of July 1, 1999, the special deputy sheriffs are for the first time covered by the State Employees Retirement Act, the State Personnel Act, and the statutes governing collective bargaining by state employees. Conn. Gen. Stat. 6-43.

The Code of Ethics defines a "public official" as "any statewide elected officer, any member or member-elect of the general assembly, any person appointed to any office of the legislative, judicial or executive branch of state government by the governor, with or without the advice and consent of the general assembly, any sheriff or deputy sheriff, any person appointed or elected by the general assembly or by any member of either house thereof; and any member or director of a quasi-public agency…" Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(l). "State employee" is defined as "any employee in the executive, legislative or judicial branch of state government, whether in the classified or unclassified service and whether full or part-time, and any employee of a quasi-public agency…" Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79 (m).

Applying these definitions to special deputy sheriffs, although they cannot be considered public officials under the Code of Ethics, they are employed by the state’s High Sheriffs, who, under the state Constitution, are considered to be members of the executive branch of state government. See Connecticut Constitution, Article Fourth, Section 25. As a consequence, for the purpose of applying the Code of Ethics, special deputy sheriffs are employees of the executive branch, and are, therefore, state employees. As state employees, the special deputy sheriffs may not, among other restrictions, use their state office or position, however inadvertently, for personal financial gain, nor may they accept outside employment which impairs their independence of judgment as to their state duties, or induces them to disclose confidential information gained in their state job. See Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(b), 1-84(c).

Turning to the specific questions raised by Ms. Meehan, she first asks whether a special deputy sheriff can perform services as a peace officer at the request of a deputy sheriff. The special deputy sheriff is not paid with state funds, but rather is paid independently by the deputy sheriff. Since the special deputies are asked to perform the work because of their official status, Ms. Meehan asks whether they are using their state positions for financial gain, in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c). Because the special deputy sheriff is asked to perform these services by a superior within the state system, it is not a use of the special deputy’s state position to accept the assignment. Of course, the special deputy sheriff’s state duties must come first, and he or she may not use state time, personnel or materials to perform the outside work.

In fact, however, it is the deputy sheriff who has the potential conflict of interest under the Code of Ethics. He or she must ensure that the special deputy is paid fully for the work performed, and that the pay is at a fair market rate. Particular concern is raised if the deputy sheriff who hires a special deputy privately also supervises the special deputy’s state work. See State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 92-24, 54 Conn. L. J. No. 31, p. 4C (2/2/93) (Where a state employee-supervisor engages the services of a subordinate in a private enterprise, the arrangement may impair the supervisor’s ability, in his official capacity, to objectively direct and evaluate the subordinate. Also, a state-employee-supervisor who pays a subordinate less than the fair market value for private work has used his office for personal financial gain.)

The response to Ms. Meehan’s second scenario is the same. Nothing in the Code of Ethics prohibits special deputy sheriffs from being employed by deputy sheriffs to help in the service of capias warrants for so-called "deadbeat parents," but the special deputies must be paid fully and fairly for the work performed.

Finally, it should be noted that this opinion addresses the application of the ethics laws only, and cannot and does not address the application of other state laws to the question of whether special deputy sheriffs may legally perform the work described.

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick,

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:02:57 AM