Ethics Commission Backs Investigating Complaint Against Speaker Fox

Sep 24, 2013

Back in 2007, Gordon Fox said he didn't think his public office had been beneficial to his private law practice. The statement has some unintentional irony in the present, considering how Fox faces a state Ethics Commission investigation for not disclosing legal work done from 2005 to 2009 for the Providence Economic Development Partnership.

The investigation grew out of a complaint filed September 3 by a former Providence resident, Judith Reilly, who now resides in Salem, Massachusetts. Reilly was a critic of the PEDP, a city agency whose stated attempts to foster small business have been marked by serious problems, including many defaults.

At this stage, there's no indication of any wrongdoing by Fox. Ethics Commission lawyer Jason Gramitt says, "The commission’s staff and investigators will look into the allegations and determine whether or not there is any information missing on the financial disclosure forms or whether the forms were filed properly. As of now, we don’t know."

According to a letter submitted to the Ethics Commission by Fox's lawyer, Albin Moser, the PEDP's lawyer, Joshua Teverow, "subcontracted with Mr. Fox as a closing attorney on some of the closings that PEDP had contracted with Mr. Teverow's office to perform" between 2005 and 2009. "PEDP issued checks to Mr. Teverow's office and Mr. Teverow's office paid Mr. Fox out of those funds. PEDP issued no checks to Mr. Fox."

Fox subsequently disclosed work he did for the PEDP in 2010, 2011, and 2012, Moser writes, since "PEDP contracted with Mr. Fox" in those years.

Gramitt says the Ethics Commission has up to 180 days to conclude its investigation, although he expects things to wind up in less time.

Fox was serving as Speaker William Murphy's majority leader in 2007 when he told me he didn't think his public office hadn't been beneficial to his private legal practice.

The leading case in point was how back in 2004, Fox paid a $10,000 fine to settle a conflict of interest complaint filed with the Ethics Commission by Operation Clean Government. The case was based on how Fox participated in a vote on an exclusive 20-year state contract for GTECH while doing legal work as am independent contractor for a firm that worked for GTECH. (The Ethics Commission also found 10 mitigating factors in the situation.)

At the same time, Fox has benefited from his personal connections. He formerly earned about $18,000 a year as a member of the Providence Board of Licenses, for example, with support from former mayors Buddy Cianci and David Cicilline, the latter who, more recently has boosted him for mayor of Providence. The ProJo reports that Fox landed the work for the PEDP with help from Cicilline.

In New York, legislators have resisted efforts to increase their requirements for disclosure.

John Marion, executive director of Common Cause of Rhode Island, notes the presence of many lawyers in the General Assembly, including in legislative leadership.

Regarding questions of disclosure and subcontracted work, Marion says,"I think it's a worthy matter to look into, because I'm not sure there has been a similar allegation in the past, and I'm not sure the Ethics Commission has really come to some sort of resolution of how they handle questions of what income attorneys [in the General Assembly] do need to disclose."