Teacher Standards and Practices Commission

465 Commercial Street NE

Salem OR  97301

 

July 31, August 1 & 2, 2002

 

ITEM:

 

CONFLICT OF INTEREST IN DISCIPLINE CASES REPRESENTED BY SMITH, GAMSON, DIAMOND & OLNEY LAW FIRM

 

ACTION:

ACTION ITEM

 

RECOMMENDATION:

The Executive Director recommends adoption of the following resolutions:

 

RESOLVED, that an actual or potential conflict of interest may be presented by the Executive Director’s stepdaughter’s employment in the Smith Gamson Diamond and Olney law firm, a law firm that represents licensed teachers who are charged with misconduct in TSPC proceedings.

 

RESOLVED FURTHER, that to avoid any potential or actual conflict of interest, the Executive Director has decided not to take any action or make any decisions or recommendations about cases handled by the Smith Gamson Diamond and Olney law firm so long as the Executive Director’s stepdaughter is employed by that firm.

 

RESOLVED FURTHER, that the Executive Director is notifying the Commission of this actual or potential conflict of interest in writing and is requesting that the Commission dispose of the matters that give rise to the conflict in the manner specified by the Commission.

 

RESOLVED FURTHER, that the manner specified for the disposal of these matters is that the Executive Director is authorized to assign responsibility for making decisions and recommendations in these cases to a qualified TSPC staff member or to another qualified person as deemed necessary or appropriate by the Executive Director.

 

RESOLVED FURTHER, that a list of the cases represented by the Smith Gamson Diamond and Olney firm and pending with the commission will be presented regularly to the Commission Chair, the Chair of the Discipline Committee and the Attorney General’s office.

 


 

INFORMATION:

1.  Letter to Government Standards and Practices Commission (GSPC) dated June 5, 2002

2.  GSPC opinion letter


 

Circumstances:  The Executive Director’s stepdaughter is an associate attorney in the law firm of Smith Gamson Diamond and Olney.  The Smith Gamson firm has a contractual arrangement with the Oregon Education Association to represent licensed teachers who are charged with misconduct in TSPC proceedings.

 

The issue is whether this relationship presents an “actual conflict of interest” between the Executive Director and these cases as defined in Oregon Law.

 

“Actual conflict of interest” means any action or any decision or recommendation by a person acting in a capacity as a public official, the effect of which would be to the private pecuniary benefit or detriment of the person or the person’s relative or any business with which the person or a relative of the person is associated unless the pecuniary benefit or detriment arises out of circumstances described in subsection (8)(a) to (c) of this section. ORS 244.010 [Circumstances in subsection (8) related to political gifts.]

 

The definition of “relative” under the statute includes the children of a public official’s spouse.

 

The statutes go on to direct public officials presented with an “actual or potential” conflict of interest to notify in writing the person who appointed the public official to office of the nature of the conflict, and request that the appointing authority dispose of the matter giving rise to the conflict.  Upon receipt of the request the appointing authority shall designate within a reasonable time an alternate to dispose of the matter, or shall direct the official to dispose of the matter in a manner specified by the appointing authority.

 

In 1994, the GSPC issued an advisory opinion with similar facts. In that opinion, the GSPC reasoned that the existence of a conflict of interest depended upon the fee arrangement between the law firm and the client (OEA).  GSPC ruled that if the firm provided services based on an hourly or flat fee, then there was no actual conflict of interest.  Preliminary indications reveal that the GSPC may be poised to change their position on these facts.

 

By adopting this resolution, the Commission will delegate to the Executive Director the authority to dispose of these matters by assigning them to another qualified TSPC staff member or to another qualified person such as, but not excluding, the retired Executive Director as deemed necessary or appropriate.