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Interpretative Opinion 98-07: Conflict of Interest

December 1, 1998

The Honorable Kevin P. Chavous
Councilmember Ward 7
Council of the District of Columbia
441-4th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Re: Conflict of Interest

Dear Councilmember Chavous:

This responds to your request for an opinion concerning whether you are required to recuse yourself on Bill 12-192, “The Workers’ Compensation Amendment Act of 1998", in light of your employment as Of Counsel in a law firm which represents Washington Sports and Entertainment, L.P.  In clarification of your practice at the law firm, you state the following: (1) you will not benefit from any financial gains derived from representation by the firm; and  (2) you will not be providing any legal advice or legal representation for the client indicated above.

Specifically, the Bill will require the Department of Employment Services to use the “work life expectancy” of a professional athlete for calculating the duration of workers’ compensation benefits; whereas currently, the athlete is paid according to his “full life expectancy.”  You state the new standard will reduce the number of weeks that athletes are to be paid, and thereby provide a financial benefit to Washington Sports and Entertainment.

DC Code § 1-1461(b) provides that [n]o public official shall use his or her official position or office to obtain financial gain for himself or herself, . . . or any  business  with which he or she . . . is associated . . .”.  For purposes of the conflict of interest statute, the term, “business” is defined at  DC Code § 1-1461(I)(2) to mean, “any corporation, partnership, . . . , and any legal entity through which business is conducted for profit.”  Clearly, the law firm with which you are associated would fit this statutory description.

DC Code § 1-1461(g) prescribes a procedure by which a public official may recuse himself or herself where he or she would be  required to take an action or make a decision that would affect “directly or indirectly his or her financial interests or those of a . . . business with which he or she  is associated, or must take an official action on a matter as to which he or she has a conflict situation created by a . . . client interest.”  “Financial interest” is defined at 45 DCR 3217 (May 22, 1998) as “any monetary advantage or claim.”

Based on our review of the subject legislation, and the disclosures you made in your request, it is the opinion of the Office of Campaign Finance that a conflict of interest is not presented should you act on the proposed legislation as you do not stand to gain financially, nor does the business with which you are associated.  Although it appears that Washington Sports and Entertainment, L.P. stands to gain financially from the enactment of this legislation, you have represented that this entity is a client of Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn, P.L.L.C., and not yours personally.