Docket No. 423
In the Matter of Christopher S. Look, Jr.
Date: November 27, 1991
This Disposition Agreement (Agreement) is entered into between the State Ethics Commission (Commission) and Dukes County Sheriff Christopher S. Look, Jr. (Sheriff Look) pursuant to section 5 of the Commission’s Enforcement Procedures. This Agreement constitutes a consented to final Commission order enforceable in the superior court, pursuant to G.L. c. 268B, §4(j).
On January 16, 1991, the Commission initiated, pursuant to G.L. c. 268B, §4(a), a preliminary inquiry into possible violations of the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A, by Sheriff Look. The Commission concluded its inquiry and, on July 11, 1991, voted to find reasonable cause to believe that Sheriff Look violated G.L. c. 268A, §§13 and 23. The Commission and Sheriff Look now agree to the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:
1. At all times relevant to this matter, Sheriff Look was the elected sheriff of Dukes County. As such, Sheriff Look was, at the times here relevant, a county employee as defined in G.L. c. 268A, §1(d).
2. As sheriff of Dukes County, Sheriff Look is empowered to appoint deputy sheriffs. Although deputy sheriff appointments are unpaid, deputy sheriffs are eligible to be assigned to work paid details and, with court approval, as paid per diem court officers in the superior and district courts in Dukes County. Deputy sheriffs serve conterminously with the sheriff and must be reappointed each time the sheriff is reelected, or each time a new sheriff is elected, in order to continue so serving.
3. Peter Look is Sheriff Look’s brother. William Look and Christopher s. Look, III, are two of Sheriff Look’s sons.
4. Peter Look has been a deputy sheriff and a per diem court officer since before Sheriff Look took office. During Sheriff Look’s tenure as sheriff, Peter Look has earned money as a deputy sheriff through his service as a part-time paid per diem court officer. As sheriff, Sheriff Look has reappointed his brother as a deputy sheriff on several occasions, most recently in January 1987, at the start of Sheriff Look’s current term, with knowledge that Peter Look would continue serving as a paid per diem court officer.
5. Sheriff Look first appointed Christopher S. Look, III as a deputy sheriff in 1980 or 1981 and reappointed him as such in January 1987, at the start of Sheriff Look’s current term. Although Christopher S. Look, III’s initial appointment as a deputy sheriff in 1980 or 1981 made him eligible for paid deputy sheriff detail assignments, he did not work any such details until 1990, in which year he earned approximately $2,600 working such details.
6. Sheriff Look first appointed William Look as a deputy sheriff in 1980 or 1981 and reappointed him as such in January 1987, at the start of Sheriff Look’s current term. Although William Look’s initial appointment as a deputy sheriff in 1980 or 1981 made him eligible for paid deputy sheriff detail assignments, he did not work any such details until May 1987, when he joined the Norton Point Beach patrol. As a deputy sheriff working the Norton Point Beach patrol in 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1990, William Look earned, on average, approximately $3,200 annually.
7. In his capacity as sheriff, Sheriff Look in 1987 recruited William Look to work as a paid member of the Norton Point Beach patrol, at a starting rate of approximately $8.00 per hour.
8. General Laws c. 268A, §13, except as permitted by that section, prohibits a county employee from participating as such in a particular matter in which to his knowledge an immediate family member has a financial interest.
9. Peter Look, as Sheriff Look’s brother, and William Look and Christopher S. Look, III, as Sheriff Look’s sons, are members of Sheriff Look’s immediate family as that term is defined in G.L. c. 268A, §1(e).
10. The 1987 reappointments of Peter Look, William Look and Christopher S. Look, III, as deputy sheriffs and the 1987 recruitment of William Look for the Norton Point Beach patrol were particular matters within the meaning of G.L. c. 268A.
11. Due to the eligibility of deputy sheriffs to be assigned to paid details, Peter Look, William Look and Christopher S. Look, III each had a financial interest in their 1987 reappointments as deputy sheriffs. In addition, Peter Look had a financial interest in his appointment as a deputy sheriff in that in Dukes County paid per diem court officers have traditionally been appointed exclusively from the ranks of deputy sheriffs. Finally, because his work on the Norton Point Beach patrol was compensated, William Look had a financial interest in his recruitment to work on the beach patrol. Sheriff Look knew of these financial interests. 
12. By in 1987 making the above-described reappointments of his immediate family members and recruiting one of his sons to work as a paid member of the Norton Point Beach patrol, Sheriff Look personally and substantially participated in particular matters in which to his knowledge members of his immediate family had financial interests. In so doing, Sheriff Look violated G.L. c. 268A, §13.
13. Sheriff Look asserts that a number of county and state officials knew that he was reappointing his brother and sons as deputy sheriffs and that he had recruited his son William to serve on the Norton Point Beach patrol, and such officials raised no objection to those actions. Regardless of the truth of this assertion, however, these officials’ awareness of these facts is not a defense to Sheriff Look’s §13 violation.
14. Section 23(b)(3) of G.L. c. 268A prohibits a county employee from acting in a manner which would cause a reasonable person, having knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to conclude that any person can improperly influence or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties, or that he is likely to act or fail to act as a result of kinship, rank, position or the undue influence of any party or person.
15. By reappointing three members of his immediate family as deputy sheriffs and by recruiting one of his sons to work as a member of a paid beach patrol, Sheriff Look acted in a manner which would cause a reasonable person, knowing the relevant facts, to conclude that Sheriff Look could be unduly influenced by kinship in the performance of his official duties. In so doing, Sheriff Look violated G.L. c. 268A, §23(b)(3).
16. The Commission has found no evidence that Sheriff Look actually gave preferential treatment to his brother or his sons in regard to the actions described above. Nor has the Commission found any evidence that Sheriff Look derived personal gain from his actions or that he attempted to conceal any of the relevant facts. The absence of such evidence, however, is at most a mitigating factor, not a defense to liability under G.L. c. 268A. See, e.g., In the Matter of James Geary, 1987 SEC 305, 307.
17. The Commission has found no evidence that Sheriff Look was aware that his actions violated G.L. c. 268A. Ignorance of the law, however, is no defense to a violation of G.L. c. 268A. See, e.g., In the Matter of Mary L. Padula, 1987 SEC 310, 311 and n.2.
In view of the foregoing violations of G.L. c. 268A by Sheriff Look, the Commission has determined that the public interest would be served by the disposition of this matter without further enforcement proceedings, on the basis of the following terms and conditions agreed to by Sheriff Look:
1. that Sheriff Look pay to the Commission the sum of one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) as a civil penalty for violating G.L. c. 268A;
2. that Sheriff Look either secure the resignations of Christopher S. Look, III, and William Look asdeputy sheriffs or, alternatively, make their further service as deputy sheriffs expressly conditioned or restricted so as to prohibit their working paid details as long as Sheriff Look remains sheriff;
3. that Sheriff Look act in conformance with the requirements of G.L. c. 268A in his future conduct as a county employee; and
4. that Sheriff Look waive all rights to contest the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and terms and conditions contained in this Agreement in any related administrative or judicial proceeding to which the Commission is or may be a party.
 In certain narrowly defined circumstances, a public official’s awareness and approval of a county employee’s participating in the appointment of a family member can avoid a §13 violation. Thus, §13(b}, in pertinent part, provides:
Any county employee whose duties would otherwise require him to participate in such a particular matter shall advise the official responsible for appointment to his position and the state ethics commission of the nature and circumstances of the particular matter and make full disclosure of such financial interest, and the appointment official shall thereupon either (1) assign the particular matter to another employee; or (2) assume responsibility for the particular matter; or (3) make a written determination that the interest is not so substantial as to be deemed likely to affect the integrity of the services which the county may expect from the employee, in which case it shall not be a violation for the employee to participate in the particular matter....
This exception is not, however, available to elected officials, like Sheriff Look, who, by definition, do not have an "appointing official" within the meaning of the law. See, e.g., In the Matter of Paul Nowicki, 1988 SEC 365, 366, n.4.