Advisory Opinions 101

Anyone can call or e-mail the Ethics Commission with questions about the law or opinions of the Commission. Staff cannot provide advisory opinions over the telephone or in response to an e-mail but it can provide general information or guidance. Staff can also direct callers or e-mail requesters to relevant advisory opinions, information sheets, or other helpful resources.

If you would like to review an Overview of the Law, with information sheets and other useful tools, you can go to the Ethics Education Section of this Web site.

Types of Opinions

The Ethics Commission issues three types of opinions:

  1. Formal Opinions consider situations that may occur in a variety of jurisdictions or apply to a large number of public officials or employees. They are reviewed and approved by the Commission, numbered, and available on the Commission’s Web site.
  2. Informal Opinions are issued to an individual under the authority of the Commission.  They are also reviewed and approved by the Commission.  While they are public records, they are not commonly available on the Commission’s Web site.
  3. Staff Opinions are written by an advisory staff attorney and are not reviewed by the Commission.  However, they are based on prior formal or informal opinions of the Commission.  While they are public records, they are not available on the Commission’s Web site.

When a request is received, the Commission will determine which kind of response is most appropriate.

Immunity

All three kinds of Ethics Commission opinions provide immunity to individuals who receive them. Any person who receives a written advisory opinion from the Commission can “reasonably rely” on the opinion and shall be immune from criminal prosecutions, civil suits, and removal from his or her office or position based on the facts and circumstances covered by the opinion. In other words, if you receive an advisory opinion from the Commission, you receive immunity for the facts and circumstances described in the opinion provided that you:

  1. Have fully disclosed all relevant facts; and
  2. Comply with the guidelines applied in the opinion.

Individuals in similar situations to those described in a previous opinion can also rely on the opinion and receive the same immunity.

Previously Issued Advisory Opinions

All of the formal advisory opinions issued by the Commission dating back to 1974 are available on this Website. Staff and informal advisory opinions dating back to 1986 are available from the Commission-please contact the office and ask to speak to an advisory attorney.