Ethics Commission Finds that Former Chelmsford Planning Board Member Richard McClure Violated the Conflict of Interest Law
Acted as attorney for clients in two lawsuits in which the Town of Chelmsford was a party
The Ethics Commission issued a Decision and Order (“Decision”) finding that former Chelmsford Planning Board member Richard McClure (“McClure”) violated section 17(c) of G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, by representing clients in two separate lawsuits in which the Town of Chelmsford (the “Town”) was a party. The Commission denied a motion by McClure to dismiss the proceedings and ordered McClure to pay a $5,000 civil penalty. McClure has 30 days to pay the civil penalty or file an appeal with the Superior Court.
According to the Decision, on April 5, 2011, McClure, an attorney in the Town, was elected to the Town Planning Board. As a Planning Board member, McClure was a municipal employee for the purposes of the conflict of interest law. On April 22, 2011, McClure, acting as a private attorney representing private individuals, filed suit against the Town Clerk in Middlesex Superior Court challenging the Clerk’s interpretation of the Town Charter regarding the procedure for initiating a recall election of the Chelmsford Board of Selectmen (the “Recall Lawsuit”). On April 22, 2011, prior to the start of a hearing in the Recall Lawsuit, and then again by letter dated April 26, 2011, Town Counsel warned McClure that his representation of clients in a lawsuit against the Town constituted a violation of the conflict of interest law. Although McClure could have ended the conflict of interest by either resigning from the Planning Board or by ceasing to act as agent or attorney for the plaintiffs in connection with the Recall Lawsuit, he did neither. In early May 2011, acting on a motion from the Town Clerk, the court disqualified McClure from representing any party other than himself in the Recall Lawsuit. He unsuccessfully appealed his disqualification.
Additionally, in 2010, prior to his election to the Planning Board, McClure filed a lawsuit in Land Court for four Chelmsford residents involved in a property dispute (the “Fair Street Lawsuit”), and in October 2010, filed an amended complaint naming the Town a defendant in the Fair Street Lawsuit. After McClure was elected to the Planning Board, Town Counsel admonished him in writing on May 24, 2011, stating that McClure’s representation of the plaintiffs was a violation of the conflict of interest law and requesting his withdrawal as counsel in the Fair Street Lawsuit. On October 6, 2011, the court allowed the defendants’ motion to disqualify McClure from the Fair Street Lawsuit, and McClure withdrew as counsel.
The Commission found that “… by his actions in commencing and continuing to serve as a private attorney in the Recall and Fair Street lawsuits, McClure placed himself in situations where the interests of and his duties to his private clients and his employing municipality were in conflict, and, in each case, he chose his duties to his clients and their interests over his duties to the Town and its interests ….” The Commission further noted that “While willfulness and knowledge are not required elements of a § 17(c) violation, for purposes of determining the resolution of this matter, we find that McClure’s actions, particularly after his warning by Town Counsel on April 22, 2011, were knowing and willful.”
Section 17(c) of the conflict of interest law prohibits municipal employees from, otherwise than in the proper discharge of their official duties, acting as agent or attorney for anyone other than the city or town or municipal agency in prosecuting any claim against the same city or town, or as agent or attorney for anyone in connection with any particular matter in which the same city or town is a party or has a direct and substantial interest.