Ethics Complaint Round-Up
An update on the status of two old and one new ethics complaints, both reported by the ProJo’s Bruce Landis. First the new, from the ProJo’s :
State Sen. Frank A. Ciccone III yesterday denied parts of the ethics complaint filed against him the day before and said that one element of it, his failure to disclose his union jobs in an Ethics Commission filing, was an oversight.
Ciccone, a Providence Democrat, was the target of a complaint filed by Operation Clean Government President Arthur C. “Chuck” Barton III the day before accusing him of sponsoring legislation favoring his union, not disclosing that source of income, and potentially benefiting unionized employees by participating in a legislative investigation of the Carcieri administration’s hiring of temporary workers.
Ciccone said he has two paying union jobs, one as a field representative of Local 808 of the Rhode Island Laborers International Union and another as business manager of the local. He acknowledged that he omitted them from his last two years’ financial disclosure reports, which are intended to let the public detect conflicts of interest among public officials.
“I made a mistake,” he said. “It was inadvertent.”
Sounds familiar….Which brings us to an update on two “older” cases. First, in case you forgot:
[Senator President Joseph] Montalbano is accused of violating the ethics code by failing to report tens of thousands of dollars in income from West Warwick for legal work associated with the Narragansett Indians’ failed casino proposal there. He’s also accused of participating in Senate votes when he had a clear conflict of interest.
Montalbano also claimed it was an “oversight”, and has decided to take the unprecedented step of asking for a jury trial instead of a hearing in front of the state Ethics Commission. Well, they’re not going for it.
[T]he commission and its staff wrangled for more than an hour yesterday with Montalbano’s lawyer, Max Wistow….Commission prosecutor Dianne L. Leyden said Wistow was merely trying to delay the case and the hearing, scheduled for June 5 and 6. She opposed the jury trial demand, and said the commission doesn’t have the legal authority to hold one even if it wanted to.
The commission’s independent legal counsel, Kathleen Managhan, agreed that the state Constitution and state law don’t provide for Ethics Commission jury trials, but she said the commission can rule on whether an accused official has a right to one.
If officials accused of ethics violations were regularly tried before a judge and jury, and not the commission, it would take away the commission’s greatest power, the job of enforcing the Code of Ethics, which is given to it in the state Constitution.
After Leyden repeatedly accused Wistow of using “delaying tactics,” Wistow said that he doesn’t think it’s his job to help make the process run smoothly. “It’s not my place to make things easier for the prosecution or even for the commission,” he said. To the contrary, he said, “I have a sacred obligation to my client to make things as difficult as possible for the prosecution.”
That approach appeared to annoy some commission members. James C. Segovis objected to “this fractured use of English” and, a few minutes later, said of what went on yesterday, “It’s an abuse of our time and our process.” George Weavill Jr., another commission member, remarked that “a lot of what Mr. Wistow has raised has been smoke and mirrors.”
“I‘ve apparently antagonized two members of the commission,” Wistow said a few moments later. He said he had only been trying to assert Montalbano’s rights.
Finally, the ProJo’s Landis also reports that former Senate President William Irons, “accused of breaking the ethics laws by using his office for financial gain and by voting on pharmacy legislation where he had a substantial conflict of interest,” is trying to go the “jury trial” route. Now, why do you suppose this novel idea is being suggested? Unfortunately, I’d say that the lawyers for both Irons and Montalbano are confident that they can confuse the average citizen juror enough to get an acquittal. I expect that they won’t confuse the Ethics Commission so easily.