What are the stages of an ethics complaint?

Published 10/05/2009 09:02 AM   |    Updated 10/05/2009 09:02 AM
What are the stages of an ethics complaint?

An investigation starts with a report to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). This report or complaint is a request to investigate. In contrast, the term "complaint" in the OIG statute refers to the written document the OIG files with the State Ethics Commission (SEC) if a Code of Ethics violation is determined by the OIG after an investigation. Upon receiving a request to investigate, the following stages are followed.

  1. Investigation
    The OIG investigates allegations that the Indiana Code of Ethics may have been violated. If it determines after an investigation that the facts constitute probable cause that can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence, it may file a written complaint with the SEC specifying the alleged violation.
  2. Filing of the complaint
    An ethics complaint is a written document filed by the Inspector General with the SEC. This document cites the specific ethics rule which is alleged to have been violated along with the general supporting facts. This is a civil rather than a criminal proceeding. The person named as allegedly violating the rule is the "Respondent".

    If the SEC finds that probable cause exists to support the complaint, the state employee is notified in writing of this SEC finding and is given a hearing date. This determination by the SEC is made in executive rather than public session.

    Under Indiana law, the written complaint filed with the SEC is a public document. The probable cause information and supporting investigatory records are not public documents.
  3. Discovery
    A witness and exhibit list allegedly supporting the complaint are provided to the Respondent.
  4. Optional Negotiations
    During the interim between the filing of the complaint and the hearing or trial on the complaint, the Inspector General may communicate with the Respondent in order to seek an agreed settlement to submit for approval or rejection by the SEC. The Respondent is entitled to communicate through an attorney he or she hires. If an agreed settlement is not reached, the case moves to the SEC for the hearing or trial on the complaint.
  5. Hearing on the complaint
    The hearing is public and like in most state agency proceedings, the media is permitted to attend and record the proceedings.

    The hearing is similar to a court proceeding. However, the SEC conducts the hearings informally so as to provide fairness to the Respondent. The SEC is the ultimate trier of fact. The SEC also controls the reception of evidence and the entire proceeding. Currently, the SEC consists of licensed attorneys in Indiana who have wide ranges of experience and geographic backgrounds. To learn more about the current SEC members, please visit our Commission page.

    Generally, the procedure at the hearing is similar to a court trial. Both parties are entitled to present evidence in the form of witness testimony and exhibits. Cross-examination of the witnesses is permitted. The Inspector General usually presents evidence first and then rests. Then the Respondent is entitled to present evidence. After the Respondent rests, the Inspector General may be given the opportunity to present rebuttal evidence. Then the parties are usually given the opportunity to give final arguments or a summation to the SEC as to why each party believes the complaint has or has not been proved.

    The SEC then deliberates in executive session much like a jury in a court proceeding. The announcement of their decision is often at a different date.

    If the SEC rules that the Inspector General has not proven its complaint by a preponderance of the evidence, the case is dismissed by the SEC and is over. If the SEC finds that the Inspector General has proved its complaint by a preponderance of the evidence, the SEC issues its ruling in writing.

    Penalties for a Code of Ethics violation by the SEC are addressed in Indiana Code 4-2-6 and may involve a monetary fine up to three times the financial impact of the unethical activity. In extreme cases, the SEC may issue a permanent bar from future state government employment.
  6. Inspector General Report
    A separate report from the Inspector General is issued summarizing the investigation if the SEC issues findings of a violation of the Code of Ethics.
  7. Payment of fines
    If the SEC imposes a fine, the Inspector General is charged to collect this fee and deposit the monies with the State Treasury.
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