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Interpretative Opinion 98-06: Conflict of Interest

November 30, 1998

The Honorable Harold Brazil
Councilmember At-Large
Council of the District of Columbia
441-4th Street, NW, Suite 701
Washington, DC 20001

Re: Conflict of Interest

Dear Councilmember Brazil:

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 membership in a law firm which represents injured workers in workers’ compensation claims in the District of Columbia.  In clarification of your practice at the law firm, you state the following: (1) you did no work as an attorney in your law firm on behalf of workers’ compensation claimants; (2) you derived no income from the work of the law firm on behalf of injured workers; (3) you do not participate in the profits of the firm earned from workers’ compensation; and (4) you do not appear before the District of Columbia Office of Workers’ Compensation.

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.”

Based on our review of the subject legislation, the disclosures you made on the record at the time of the first reading of Bill 12-192,  as well as subsequent disclosures referenced herein, 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.

More specifically, because Section 2(d)(2) of Bill 12-192 amends DC Code § 36-308, paragraphs (1) through (19), to reduce by 25% the stated periods of compensation, the total amount of attorney fees which may not exceed 20% of the total award pursuant to DC Code § 36-330(f), may be indirectly affected in a negative manner.  In accordance with the Regulations of the Board of Elections and Ethics at 45 DCR 3161 (May 22, 1998) governing Conflict of Interest, §3300.1 prohibits a public official from acting or deciding on any matter “upon which there is a conflict of potential conflict created by their financial, personal, family, business or client interest”.  “Financial interest” is defined at 45 DCR 3217 (May 22, 1998) as “any monetary advantage or claim.”