FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
A Citizen's Responsibility
The Commission on Ethics cannot conduct investigations of alleged violations of the Sunshine Amendment or the Code of Ethics unless a person files a sworn complaint with the Commission alleging such violation has occurred.
If you have knowledge that a person in government has violated the standards of conduct or disclosure laws or has committed some other breach of the public trust, you may report these violations to the Commission by filing a sworn complaint on a form promulgated by the Commission. Otherwise, the Commission is unable to take action, even after learning of such misdeeds through newspaper reports and phone calls.
Should you desire assistance in completing a **complaint form (Form 50), please contact the Commission office at (850) 488-7864 or P.O. Drawer 15709, Tallahassee, FL 32317-5709. **Acrobat Reader required to view and/or print. Get free version from Adobe.
The complaint, as well as all proceedings and records relating to the complaint, are confidential until the accused requests that such records be made public or until the complaint reaches a stage in the Commission's proceedings where it becomes public. This means that unless the Commission receives a written waiver of confidentiality from the accused, the Commission is not free to release any documents or to comment on a complaint to members of the public or press, so long as the complaint remains in a confidential stage.
IN NO EVENT MAY A COMPLAINT BE FILED OR DISCLOSED WITH RESPECT TO A CANDIDATE FOR ELECTION WITHIN 30 DAYS IMMEDIATELY PRECEDING THE DATE OF THE ELECTION, UNLESS THE COMPLAINT OR REFERRAL IS BASED UPON PERSONAL INFORMATION OR INFORMATION OTHER THAN HEARSAY.
How the Complaint Process Works
The Commission staff must forward a copy of the original sworn complaint to the accused within five days of its receipt. Any subsequent sworn amendments to the complaint also are transmitted within five days of their receipt.
Once a complaint is filed, there are three procedural stages which it goes through under the Commission's rules. The first stage is a determination of whether the allegations of the complaint are legally sufficient, that is, whether they indicate a possible violation of any law over which the Commission has jurisdiction. If the complaint is found not to be legally sufficient, the Commission will order that the complaint be dismissed without investigation, and all records relating to the complaint will become public at that time.
If the complaint is found to be legally sufficient, a preliminary investigation will be undertaken by the investigative staff of the Commission. The second stage of the Commission's proceedings involves this preliminary decision and a decision by the Commission of whether there is probable cause to believe that there has been a violation of the ethics laws. If the Commission finds no probable cause to believe there has been a violation of the ethics laws, the complaint will be dismissed and will become a matter of public record. If the Commission finds probable cause to believe there has been a violation of the ethics laws, the complaint becomes public and usually enters the third stage of proceedings. This stage requires the Commission to decide whether the law was actually violated and, if so, whether a penalty should be recommended. At this stage, the accused has the right to request a public hearing (trial) at which evidence is presented, or the Commission may order that such a hearing be held. Public hearings usually are held in or near the area where the alleged violation occurred.
When the Commission concludes that a violation has been committed, it may recommend one or more penalties to the appropriate disciplinary body or official and issues a public report of its findings.
When the Commission determines that a person has filed a complaint with knowledge that the complaint contains one or more false allegations or with reckless disregard for whether the complaint contains false allegations, the complainant will be liable for costs plus reasonable attorney's fees incurred by the person complained against. The Department of Legal Affairs may bring a civil action to recover such fees and costs, if they are not paid willingly.
Dismissal of Complaints At Any Stage of Disposition
The Commission may, at its discretion, dismiss any complaint at any stage of disposition should it determine that the public interest would not be served by proceeding further, in which case the Commission will issue a public report stating with particularity its reasons for the dismissal. [Sec. 112.324(10), Fla. Stat.]
Statute of Limitations
Beginning October 1, 1993, all sworn complaints alleging a violation of the Sunshine Amendment or the Code of Ethics have to be filed with the Commission within 5 years of the alleged violation or other breach of the public trust. Time starts to run on the day AFTER the violation or breach of public trust is committed. The statute of limitations is tolled on the day a sworn complaint is filed with the Commission. If a complaint is filed and the statute of limitations has run, the complaint will be dismissed. [Sec. 112.3231, Fla. Stat.]
Who Can Request An Opinion
Any public officer, candidate for public office, or public employee in Florida who is in doubt about the applicability of the standards of conduct or disclosure laws to himself or herself, or anyone who has the power to hire or terminate another public employee, may seek an advisory opinion from the Commission about himself or herself or that employee.
How to Request An Opinion
Opinions may be requested by letter presenting a question based on a real situation and including a detailed description of the situation. Opinions are issued by the Commission and are binding on the conduct of the person who is the subject of the opinion, unless material facts were omitted or misstated in the request for the opinion. Published opinions will not bear the name of the persons involved unless they consent to the use of their names.