Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office has given the Louisiana Ethics Board the green light to enter into consent opinions with persons accused of ethics violations. The board sought Caldwell’s advice amid concerns that the Ethics Adjudicatory Board, a seven-member panel of administrative law judges created by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ethics reforms, has the authority over consent opinions. Since the creation of the EAB, several questions of jurisdiction among the Ethics Board and the EAB have arisen, causing in some cases a halt to ethics enforcement functions such as collecting fines.

Before the creation of the EAB, consent opinions were a routine way for the board to settle ethics-violations matters with the accused, allowing them to voluntarily sign off on the ethics charge and agree to a penalty. The consent opinion allows someone who violates the ethics code to avoid the cost and publicity of a public hearing.

Caldwell’s opinion could help clear up other issues that have clouded matters of jurisdiction for the board and the EAB:

The Board also questions whether it has the authority to offer consent opinions under the Ethics Code. The consent opinion provision states that the board shall consider offering a consent opinion to each person who is the subject of an investigation. The opinion request letter expresses doubt as to which board is referred to therein. This uncertainty is misplaced. Throughout the Ethics Code the use of the term board refers exclusively to the Board of Ethics. The statutes use the terms Ethics Adjudicatory Board and adjudicatory board when referring to the Ethics Adjudicatory Board . We find no credible basis for the interpretation of the term board in La SR14C3d1421 to refer to any entity other than the Board of Ethics.

Read Caldwell’s full opinion here.

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