Ethics Commission Dismisses Complaints Without Investigation

During the public debate before and after the Town Council appointed Giovanni Cicione of Cameron & Mittleman as interim solicitor, several residents suggested that the three Town Council members with lawsuits against the town should seek an advisory opinion from the Ethics Commission before making the appointment.

The council members contended all along that the state Code of Ethics was too clear on this to justify a delay.  Not only had they filed to dismiss or withdraw from the cases, but no action was pending, meaning it would be entirely possible for the issue never to come up.  And then, even beyond that, the solicitor’s agreement states that he will not be involved in litigation that puts him at opposite ends from any council members without approval from the Ethics Commission.  If necessary, the remaining council members could appoint a special counsel for those cases.

Today, the Ethics Commission unanimously agreed, dismissing complaints against Robert Coulter, Nancy Driggs, and Justin Katz without investigation, because the complaintants did not provide evidence that they had violated the Code of Ethics.

The complaints were filed on January 15th by residents Stuart Gilfillen and David Paull.  In the last election, Mr. Paull ran for Town Council, coming in 16th out of 18 candidates, with the top seven elected.  Mr. Gilfillen ran for Budget Committee and came in 11th of 11, with the top six elected.

The Ethics Commission also approved advisory opinions that the council members had requested, confirming that they were correct in their expectation that they should recuse if their lawsuits come up in the future. The advisory opinions also appear to implicitly allow that Solicitor Cicione can handle the dismissals and withdrawals, noting that “the Town Council may wish to hire special counsel, or direct Interim Counsel, to appear at the dismissal/withdrawal hearings.”


Justin Katz

Justin Katz is a writer and researcher focusing on Rhode Island policy and politics. For more about Justin, see our About page. (401) 835-7156.

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