CEO 86-52 -- June 19, 1986
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
D.H.R.S. SENIOR PSYCHOLOGIST PROVIDING EVALUATIONS OF COMPETENCY AND INSANITY FOR COURT PROCEEDINGS
To: Mr. Bruce Frumkin, Senior Psychologist, South Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center, Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, Miami
No prohibited conflict of interest would be created were a senior psychologist at a forensic state hospital to engage in a private practice and to place his name on the county's list of expert examiners for adult criminal cases, as long as the psychologist does not use his contacts through his state position or his position as an expert examiner to obtain clients for his private practice.
Would a prohibited conflict of interest be created were you, a Senior Psychologist for a Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services Evaluation and Treatment Center, to engage in a private psychological practice and, as part of that practice, to provide evaluations of competency and insanity for court proceedings?
Your question is answered in the negative.
In your letter of inquiry you advise that you hold the position of Senior Psychologist at the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, South Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center. The Center is a forensic hospital for the treatment of adults who have been adjudicated incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity. Your job basically is that of a consultant to the institution, as you monitor the quality of psychological services there and are responsible for developing and coordinating some of the clinical treatment programs for the hospital, such as substance abuse, behavioral therapy, and family therapy. You have no direct responsibility for evaluating or treating residents of the center except in rare circumstances.
You also advise that you have a private practice of psychology which specializes in forensic psychology. Most of your work has been with children or with personal injury cases. You would like to be placed on the county's list of "expert examiners" in the adult criminal division so that you may be called upon to provide evaluations and testimony directly to the courts concerning issues of competency, insanity, and dangerousness. Admissions and discharges at the Center do not benefit you personally. Only a small percentage of individuals evaluated for competency or insanity are committed to an inpatient forensic facility. The Center treats these clients only after they have been evaluated and adjudicated by the courts. Finally, you advise that if circumstances arise in which your court- ordered evaluation of a client would present a conflict of interest, such as in those rare cases in which you will be involved in treatment, then you would decline to do the evaluation for the Court.
The Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees provides in relevant part:
CONFLICTING EMPLOYMENT OR CONTRACTUAL RELATIONSHIP. -- No public officer or employee of an agency shall have or hold any employment or contractual relationship with any business entity or any agency which is subject to the regulation of, or is doing business with, an agency of which he is an officer or employee . . . ; nor shall an officer or employee of an agency have or hold any employment or contractual relationship that will create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict between his private interests and the performance of his public duties or that would impede the full and faithful discharge of his public duties. [Section 112.313(7)(a), Florida Statutes (1985).]
As your outside employment apparently would not involve any business entity or agency which is doing business with or is regulated by the Center, we address only the second portion of this prohibition.
Under the circumstances presented, it does not appear that you are in a position at the Center to benefit your private psychological practice. Conversely, it does not appear that your involvement as an "expert examiner" on matters of competency, insanity, and dangerousness would tend to lead to disregard of your public duties with the Center. Nor do we perceive any basis upon which to conclude that your private employment would run counter to the interests of the Center. Therefore, we conclude that your private practice and service as an "expert examiner" would not create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict of interest or impede the full and faithful discharge of your public duties.
Accordingly, we find that no prohibited conflict of interest would be created were you to engage in a private psychological practice and, as part of that practice, to provide evaluations of competency and insanity for court proceedings. Please be aware, however, that the use of any materials or resources of the Center in your private practice could constitute a misuse of public position in violation of Section 112.313(6), Florida Statutes.