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Representing yourself at a State Ethics Commission hearing

This information is intended to help you understand the hearing process in the event that you are unable to be represented by an attorney

This information is not legal advice, nor is it a substitute for being represented by an attorney. The Commission recommends that you try to find an attorney to represent you, if possible.

  1. The Order to Show Cause against you is a formal accusation by the Commission’s Enforcement Division that you violated the state’s conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A, or the state’s financial disclosure law, G.L. c. 268B. The Order to Show Cause claims that you violated certain sections of the conflict of interest or financial disclosure law and alleges facts that support these claim(s).
  2. The Order to Show Cause is the beginning of a process that leads to a public hearing. The fact that the Commission authorized the Enforcement Division to initiate a hearing does not necessarily mean that the Commission will find that you violated the law. The Commission will consider all the evidence presented at the hearing before deciding whether you violated the law.
  3. At the hearing, you will have the opportunity to defend yourself against the claim(s) that you violated the conflict of interest or financial disclosure law. During the time leading up to the hearing, you need to take steps to prepare for the hearing.   
  4. The Commission will send you a copy of a Scheduling Order for your case. The Scheduling Order lists the tasks that you need to complete prior to the hearing as well as the date for the completion of each task. You need to comply with the Scheduling Order.
  5. One member of the Commission has been assigned to act as the Presiding Officer at your hearing to hear all of the evidence, and to report back on the evidence to the other Commissioners. All of the Commissioners will read the full hearing transcript and all of the evidence. The Presiding Officer and the other Commissioners will decide together whether you violated the conflict of interest or financial disclosure law based on the evidence presented at the hearing.
  6. A lawyer from the Commission’s Legal Division has been assigned to assist the Presiding Officer. This attorney is called the “Legal Advisor.” You will get communications from the Legal Advisor about scheduling and other matters. You should pay attention to these communications, and follow any steps that they direct you to take. The Legal Advisor can answer your questions about the required procedure in your case, but cannot give you legal advice.
  7. A lawyer from the Commission’s Enforcement Division has been assigned to present the case against you at the hearing. This attorney is referred to as “Petitioner’s Counsel.” Petitioner’s Counsel will be the prosecuting attorney at your hearing and cannot give you legal advice. Questions about the required procedure should be directed to the Legal Advisor and not to Petitioner’s Counsel.
  8. A copy of any letter or email that you send to the Legal Advisor must also be sent to Petitioner’s Counsel. You cannot have any private communications with the Legal Advisor or the Presiding Officer that Petitioner’s Counsel does not know about. Similarly, Petitioner’s Counsel is not allowed to have any communications with the Legal Advisor or the Presiding Officer that you do not know about.
  9. You should use the time between now and the date when the hearing is scheduled to get ready for the hearing. This means deciding if there are documents you will want to submit as evidence and witnesses you will want to call.
  10. Prior to the hearing, you must tell Petitioner’s Counsel if there are documents and witnesses you plan to present at the hearing. The Scheduling Order will tell you when this must be done. Petitioner’s Counsel must provide the same information to you. This exchange of information is referred to as “discovery.” The Scheduling Order will require you and Petitioner’s Counsel to work together to complete the discovery process and prepare for the hearing.
  11. Giving documents to Petitioner’s Counsel during discovery is not the same as submitting evidence to the Commission. Even after you have given Petitioner’s Counsel copies of any documents that you plan to present at the hearing, you still will need to take the additional step to offer those documents as evidence at the hearing.
  12. At various times before the hearing, there will be one or more meetings at the Commission called a “pre-hearing conference.” You will need to attend any pre-hearing conference, or to participate by telephone if the conference is being held by telephone. The purpose of such a conference is to discuss whether the case is moving toward being ready for the hearing. The Presiding Officer will ask you and Petitioner’s Counsel whether you have exchanged the information required in discovery and whether you have discussed settling the matter, among other things.
  13. There are procedures in the Commission’s rules to help you get documents that you think would help you defend yourself but that you do not have at present, and to require witnesses to come to the hearing to testify.  
  14. If you want to ask the Presiding Officer to make a decision about the case while you are preparing for the hearing, you must file a “motion.” A motion is a written request asking the Presiding Officer to decide an issue related to the case. A copy of any motion must be sent to both the Legal Advisor and Petitioner’s Counsel. The motion must state what it is that you want the Presiding Officer to do, and why you think he or she should grant your request. For example, if you have asked Petitioner’s Counsel for documents, but have not received all the documents you requested, you must file a motion to ask the Presiding Officer to require Petitioner’s Counsel to give the documents to you. 
  15. Petitioner’s Counsel is also permitted to make motions. If you receive a motion from Petitioner’s Counsel, you will need to respond to it. How to make and respond to motions is explained in the Commission’s rules on its website (see the link in paragraph 13). You should also review the Scheduling Order for your case, which includes the dates by which you must file certain types of motions.
  16. At the hearing, you may make an opening statement. The opening statement is not evidence. It is a summary of the evidence you expect to present.
  17. During the hearing, you will have the opportunity to offer the documents and question the witnesses that you want to present as evidence. You are allowed to call yourself as a witness and explain what happened, and also to call other witnesses. You need to offer your documents and testimony as evidence at the hearing even though by that time you will have already provided the documents and a list of your witnesses to Petitioner’s Counsel, and you may also have provided some or all of your documents to the Legal Advisor. Documents and testimony only count as evidence after they have been presented at the hearing and accepted as evidence by the Presiding Officer. It is your responsibility to present at the hearing any documents or witnesses that you want the Commission to consider in deciding whether you violated the conflict of interest or financial disclosure law.
  18. During the hearing, you will have the opportunity to question any witnesses whom Petitioner’s Counsel presents and to object to any documents that Petitioner’s Counsel wants to use as evidence.
  19. If you fail to offer a document or question a witness at the hearing, you may be prevented from presenting that document or asking that question at any later time in your defense, including during any appeal of a decision made by the Commission in your case.
  20. After the hearing, you will have an opportunity to make a written submission called a “brief” to the Commission in your defense based on the evidence presented during the hearing and the law.
  21. At the end of the hearing or at a later date, you may have an opportunity to present a closing statement. Like the opening statement, the closing statement is not evidence. It should include a summary of the evidence you presented during the hearing and your arguments about what the evidence proved.
  22. Based on the evidence presented at the hearing and the briefs and statements submitted by the parties, the Commission will issue a Decision and Order. If you decide to challenge the Decision and Order, you must file an appeal to the Superior Court within 30 days. You should check with the Superior Court about its rules for appealing decisions by an administrative agency.

This Information Sheet is intended to assist pro se persons representing themselves in State Ethics Commission proceedings. This Information Sheet is not a substitute for legal advice, nor does it mention every aspect of the law that may apply in a particular situation.

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