The Rhode Island Ethics Commission has ruled that attorney Anthony Desisto’s role as independent legal counsel for the state Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) does not constitute a …
The Rhode Island Ethics Commission has ruled that attorney Anthony Desisto’s role as independent legal counsel for the state Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) does not constitute a conflict of interest with his role as Little Compton’s town solicitor.
DeSisto, who was hired in April to provide legal services to the town, sought the advisory opinion following the town council's receipt of a letter from resident Martina Halsey, who called into question possible conflicts that might arise by DeSisto's legal work for both the town and CRMC, for which he has provided legal services as an independent contractor for at least seven years. In the letter, Halsey questioned DeSisto's dual roles and what it might cost the town if he had to recuse himself from issues pertaining to the CRMC:
"Given the fact that the new town solicitor in Little Compton also serves as the CRMC attorney, it would appear that conflicts will abound," she wrote. "A significant part of Little Compton falls under CRMC jurisdiction. How will the new town solicitor give a legal opinion that will impact the CRMC, and that will also impact Little Compton?"
Following the letter, DeSisto told council members there is no conflict of interest with his CRMC work in Little Compton or in other towns to which he provides legal services, including other towns which lie on the coast. The issue came up extensively during pre-appointment interviews, he noted.
“The concerns in the letter are misplaced,” he said. “I (also) represent Warren, which actually has an extensive coastline. I had that dual representation for that entire time for CRMC and it hasn’t been a problem here. I was also the solicitor in Tiverton — same thing, no problem.”
In the advisory opinion, ethics commission members wrote that nothing in the state Code of Ethics prohibits DeSisto from serving in both capacities simultaneously. As an independent contractor for CRMC, the commission wrote, DeSisto is not bound by the Code of Ethics. He is, however, bound as appointed legal counsel for the Town of Little Compton.
"The Ethics Commission has consistently opined that public officials and employees are not inherently prohibited from holding other employment in addition to their public employment or positions," provided that their private employment "would neither impair their independence of judgment nor create an interest that is in substantial conflict with their public duties" as town solicitor.
Noting that while Little Compton and the CRMC "have concurrent jurisdiction over certain coastal areas, the subject matter of their respective jurisdictions differ ... there is no evidence that (DeSisto's) service as legal counsel to the CRMC would either impair his independence of judgment or create an interest that is in substantial conflict with his public duties as town solicitor."
DeSisto "is cautioned to remain vigilant about his obligations under the Code of Ethics and to seek further guidance from the Ethics Commission in the event that a particular matter arises that may impair his independence of judgment or create an interest that is in substantial conflict with his public duties as Town Solicitor."