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 Requesting Written Advisory Opinions

 


        The Ethics Commission issues advisory opinions relating to the application of the standards of conduct in the Ethics Act including conflicts of interest, financial disclosure and lobbying.  A person subject to the Act may write to request an opinion regarding a proposed future course of action. 
         An opinion issued by the Commission provides the employee or official, and any other similarly situated public servant who relies on an opinion in good faith, immunity from the sanctions in the Act, as well as an absolute defense to criminal prosecution under the Act.  Precedential Advisory Opinions rendered by the Commission from 2005 to the present are available on this web site.  
        The Commission meets on the first Thursday of each month to consider written requests. Requests for written advisory opinions should be submitted in writing at least ten calendar days before the Commission's next scheduled meeting. 
          

Why ask for a written Advisory Opinion?

        A written advisory opinion gives the persons seeking the opinion an absolute defense to civil suits and criminal charges for actions taken in good faith reliance on the opinion.  The Commission cannot provide advice on an action that has already occurred. However, if the action is part of an ongoing course of conduct, an advisory opinion on continuing that course or practice may be requested. 

        A governing body that acts in good faith reliance on a precedential advisory opinion has an absolute defense to a civil suit or criminal prosecution as long as the underlying facts and surrounding circumstances are substantially the same as those addressed by the written opinion.

        Since 1989, the Commission has issued hundreds of written advisory opinions interpreting and applying the Ethics Act. These precedents allow the Commission's staff to handle most inquiries over the telephone. Persons seeking guidance on complying with the Act may also submit inquiries via fax, E-mail or regular mail. Questions will only be submitted to the Commission for a formal advisory opinion where there is no precedent covering the inquiry, or the requester expressly indicates in writing that he or she wishes the question to be addressed by the full Commission. 

         The Ethics Commission is authorized to issue written advisory opinions to public officials and employees on whether their proposed or ongoing conduct violates the Governmental Ethics Act or WV Code § 61-10-15, a criminal statute which applies only to certain county officials. People acting in good faith reliance upon an advisory opinion are immune from any disciplinary sanctions or criminal prosecution, even if they did not request the opinion themselves. For information on obtaining Open Meetings Advisory opinions go to: Open Meetings 



Who May Ask for an Opinion?

        Any person subject to the provisions of the Governmental Ethics Act or WV Code §61-10-15 may request an opinion concerning his or her own conduct. This includes an elected or appointed public official or a public employee of State, county or local government. An individual may inquire as to whether she or he is subject to the Ethics Act.  The Commission will not respond to requests for written advice on the propriety of someone else’s conduct.  The identity of the requester will not be disclosed in the Commission’s written opinion.

How to Ask for an Opinion

        Requests for a formal advisory opinion must be submitted to the Ethics Commission in writing at 210 Brooks St. Suite 300, Charleston, WV 25301. The letter should contain a complete statement of the facts, including your name, address and phone number, your official position, a brief description of the powers of your agency, commission or office and the nature of the issue. The members of the Commission will review your letter, but their deliberations and written response will not disclose your name or the identity of your specific public entity.

Time Guidelines

        The Commission will consider your request as promptly as possible, usually at its next monthly meeting. You will receive a copy of the written advisory opinion by mail.

Where to find prior Advisory Opinions

        The advisory opinions listed here are limited to questions arising under the Ethics Act, W. Va. Code §§ 6B-1-1, et seq., and do not purport to interpret other laws or rules. Pursuant to W. Va. Code § 6B-2-3, these opinions have precedential effect and may be relied upon in good faith by public servants and other persons unless and until amended or revoked.
All Advisory Opinions are in .pdf format

 

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