Docket No. 603

In the Matter of J. Nicholas Sullivan

Date: February 29, 2000


Disposition Agreement

The State Ethics Commission ("Commission") and J. Nicholas
Sullivan ("Sullivan") enter into this Disposition Agreement
pursuant to s.5 of the Commission's Enforcement Procedures. This
Agreement constitutes a consented to final order enforceable in the
Superior Court pursuant to G.L. c. 268B, s.40). On January 19,
2000, the Commission initiated, pursuant to G.L. c. 268B, s.4(a),
a preliminary inquiry into possible violations of the conflict of
interest law by Sullivan. The Commission concluded

Page 963

that inquiry, and on February 23, 2000, found reasonable cause
to believe that Sullivan violated G.L. c. 268A, s.23(b)(3).

The Commission and Sullivan now agree to the following
findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. From 1981 until 1999, Sullivan served as the Newburyport
District Court clerk magistrate[1] As such, he was a state employee
within the meaning of G.L. c. 268A, s.1 of the conflict of interest
law.

2. When a driver is cited for a motor vehicle violation in
Newburyport, the driver may pay the ticket or request a hearing in
the Newburyport District Court.

3. As the clerk magistrate, Sullivan presides over such
disputed civil motor vehicle citation hearings.

4. Ronald D'Arcangelo ("D'Arcangelo") served as the
Newburyport District Court chief of probation since 1994.[2][3]

5. D'Arcangelo and Sullivan know each other through their
official positions as court employees and are friendly.

6. Between 1993 and 1998, D'Arcangelo wrote nine requests to
Sullivan for "consideration"[4] on post-it notes he attached to the
court's copies of the motor vehicle citation documents before the
file went to Sullivan for a magistrate's hearing.

7. On each such occasion where D'Arcangelo requested
consideration, the motorist involved was either a relative or a
friend of D'Arcangelo's.

8. On each of the nine occasions indicated above, Sullivan
observed D'Arcangelo's notes when the citations came before him for
disposition and issued findings of "not responsible" in each
case.[5]

9. Each citation had potential penalties between $35 and $ 100
plus accompanying insurance premium surcharges.

10. Sullivan maintains that although he looked at the
"consideration" notes, they had no impact on his resolution of
those cases.

11. General Laws chapter 268A, s.23(b)(3), in relevant part,
prohibits a state employee from, knowingly or with reason to know,
acting in a manner which would cause a reasonable person having
knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to conclude that any
person can improperly influence the employee or unduly enjoy the
employee's favor in the performance of the employee's official
duties, or that the employee is likely to act or fail to act as the
result of kinship, rank, position or undue influence of any part or
person.

12. By accepting a series of requests for "consideration" from
D'Arcangelo, a fellow court employee, and then subsequently issuing
findings of "not responsible" in every case where consideration had
been so requested, Sullivan knowingly acted in a manner which would
cause a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant
circumstances to conclude that D'Arcangelo could improperly
influence Sullivan or that the drivers involved could unduly enjoy
Sullivan's favor in the performance of his official duties as clerk
magistrate. In so doing, Sullivan violated s.23(b)(3).[6]

In view of the foregoing violations of G.L. c. 268A, 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 Sullivan:

(1) that Sullivan pay to the Commission the sum of three
thousand dollars ($3,000.00) as a civil penalty for the
violation of G.L. c. 268A, s.23(b)(3); and

(2) that Sullivan waive all rights to contest the findings of
fact, conclusions of law and terms and conditions contained in
this Agreement in this or any other related administrative or
judicial proceeding to which the Commission is or may be a
party.

------------------

[1] On January 29, 1999, Chief Justice of the District Court
Department Samuel E. Zoll put Sullivan on administrative leave
because of the allegations that are addressed in this Disposition
Agreement.

[2] As the Newburyport District Court chief of probation,
D'Arcangelo was responsible for overseeing all probation matters
under Newbury District Court's jurisdiction.

[3] On January 29, 1999, Chief Justice of the District Court
Department Samuel E. Zoll put D'Arcangelo on administrative leave
because of the allegations that are addressed in this Disposition
Agreement.

[4] By asking for "consideration," it is clear that
D'Arcangelo was seeking that the case receive preferential
treatment rather than be judged on its merits.

[5] "Not responsible" is the statutory terminology for
"acquittal" in such cases.

[6] Sullivan had two options when he received such a request
from a fellow court employee. He should have either told
D'Arcangelo that such a request was inappropriate and he would not
consider it, or he should have disclosed what is in effect an ex-
parte communication on the record and to the Chief Justice of the
Supreme Judicial Court.

Page 964

End of Decision