April 29, 2005
PENALTIES FOR ETHICS VIOLATIONS
By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney
You asked for the authorized penalties for violating the State Code of Ethics for Public Officials, when the penalties were last increased, and the effective date of the increase.
The State Ethics Commission enforces the code and may impose civil penalties for violations. Additionally, the attorney general may seek damages from violators who receive a financial advantage based on the violation and the chief state's attorney may prosecute violators who intentionally engage in the unethical behavior.
The penalties were last increased in 2004. PA 04-38 increased the maximum civil penalty the commission may impose from $2,000 to $10,000, effective July 1, 2004. PA 04-198 established a separate penalty for second and subsequent intentional violations, thus increasing the maximum criminal penalty for such violations from up to one year in prison, a $2,000 fine, or both (a class A misdemeanor) to up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both (a class D felony), effective July 1, 2004.
In addition to these penalties, each chamber of the legislature may discipline its members for ethical violations, including impeaching them. Agencies and commissions can also discipline their officials or employees for unethical conduct. The legislature can impeach public officials for this conduct.
PENALTIES FOR ETHICS VIOLATIONS
After determining that someone has violated either code, the State Ethics Commission must order the violator to:
1. cease and desist the violation;
2. file any report, statement, or other information the code requires, including a statement of financial interests; and
3. pay a civil fine of up to $10,000 for each violation.
If the violation is failure to file any report, statement, or other information the code requires, the commission can, instead of imposing these penalties, require the violator to pay a civil penalty of up to $10 a day. Each distinct violation is a separate offense, and each day of a continuing violation is a separate offense. However, the aggregate maximum penalty cannot exceed $10,000.
The commission may report violations that constitute criminal acts to the chief state's attorney for criminal prosecution. It must notify the appropriate chamber of the General Assembly whenever a legislator or legislator-elect violates the code (CGS § 1-88 (a)-(c)).
VIOLATIONS THAT RESULT IN FINANCIAL ADVANTAGE
The law makes anyone who knowingly acts in his financial interest liable for damages equal to amount of his advantage if he violates the code provisions on prohibited activities, conflict of interest, or establishing and maintaining a legal defense fund. The attorney general may bring a civil action to recover the damages. If the violation is intentional, he may, in the court's discretion, recover additional damages equal to up to twice the amount of actual damages. The commission must immediately inform the attorney general of the possible improper benefit or intentional nature of the violation (CGS §§ 1-88 (d) and 1-89(c)).
Anyone who intentionally violates the code is guilty of a class A misdemeanor for a first offense unless he derives a financial benefit of at least $1,000, in which case he's guilty of a class D felony. A class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in prison, a $2,000 fine, or
both. A class D felony is punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both. The penalty for a second or subsequent offense is that of a class D felony (CGS § 1-89 (a) and (b)).