Ethics Watch Volume 14, Issue 1
December 2018
PSC & ORS Conduct Joint Ethics Training
On October 12, 2018, the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) attended its third annual Joint Ethics Training session. As required by Act 175 of 2004, the PSC and the ORS are required to attend six hours of ethics training annually. This year's panel featured five speakers from diverse backgrounds and one video presentation. Next year's joint ethics session has been scheduled for October 11, 2019.

Desa Ballard, Esquire
Desa Ballard, an attorney practicing professional ethics, civil litigation, and licensing law in South Carolina, presented examples of judicial misconduct. Her presentation included violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct with examples ranging from sexual harassment to impartiality and social media blunders.
Judge Thomas W. Cooper, Jr.
Judge Thomas W. Cooper, Jr. reviewed the five Judicial Canons. Judge Cooper's presentation further discussed Canon 3 regarding disqualification and recusal. Individuals bound by the Code of Judicial Conduct have a duty to disqualify if impartiality might be reasonably questioned. Judge Cooper provided examples of advisory opinions relating to impartiality.
Meghan Walker, Esquire
Meghan Walker, Executive Director of the State Ethics Commission, discussed the State Ethics Reform Act. Ms. Walker reminded statement of economic interests filers that the reports are due by March 30th. She urged filers not to wait until March 30th to file due to system overload issues. Ms. Walker reminded filers that they are required to disclose both public and private sources of income, and encouraged filers to err on the side of over-disclosure. Her presentation also included information about recusal and requesting an advisory opinion. Recusals should be put in writing and stated on the record. Please see below for additional information regarding obtaining formal and informal advisory opinions.
Robert T. Bockman, Esquire
Robert T. Bockman, an attorney and legal professor at the University of South Carolina, discussed the key elements of the Administrative Procedures Act. Mr. Bockman stressed the importance of following and complying with the procedures for rulemaking. He emphasized that we must know and understand its powers and further stressed the importance of agency staff members in order to ensure the administrative rules are followed.
Andrew Bateman, Esquire
Andrew Bateman, Counsel for the Office of Regulatory Staff, presented on ex parte communications. Ex parte communication is defined as: absent specific circumstances, nobody at the Commission can talk to any person, including ORS employees, about ANY issue in any proceeding or a matter that can reasonably be expected to become an issue in any proceeding without all parties in the case participating. Mr. Bateman used the catchphrase, "If it's gray, stay away" when referring to questionable communications.
Video Presentation: Dr. R. Gregg Dwyer, MD, EdD, DFAPA
The training included a video presentation by Dr. R. Gregg Dwyer, Associate Professor and Director of MUSC's Community and Public Safety Psychiatry Division. Dr. Dwyer discussed stress and mental health. His presentation included examples of biological and physical stress reactions, and coping strategies as a way to manage stress. Healthy ways to manage stress include: physical activity, rest and relaxation, social contact, and peer support.
State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinions
Informal Opinion - A non-binding opinion issued by the staff on a real or hypothetical set of facts or circumstances.  
Formal Opinion- A binding opinion issued by the commissioners on a real or hypothetical set of facts or circumstances.

Who can request a formal/informal opinion?
An informal or formal advisory opinion may be requested by any person to whom the Act could reasonably be expected to apply. The request must be in writing and relate prospectively to a real or hypothetical set of facts or circumstances. The Commission will not issue an advisory opinion to a third party about another person without authorization from the affected person.

The Commission will consider advisory opinion requests having prospective application only. An opinion request requiring consideration of past conduct or events may be referred to the appropriate supervisory office and an investigation of any potential violation may be conducted.

A formal advisory opinion shall be considered by the Commission at a public meeting. The person whose conduct is the subject of the request may appear at the meeting. The Commission's written opinion will be provided to the requestor and made public unless the affected parties request confidentiality. Formal advisory opinions are the final opinion of the Commission unless new and material facts are submitted which, in the opinion of staff and upon a majority vote of the Commission, warrant reconsideration.

How to request a formal/informal opinion?
A request for opinion shall include the signature, address, and telephone number of the requestor and shall set forth a complete set of facts and circumstances giving rise to the request. Failure to disclose relevant information may void the opinion. Requests may be made by writing, faxing, or telephoning the Commission. Members of or candidates for the House of Representatives and Senate should request opinions from the appropriate legislative ethics committee.

State Ethics Commission 
201 Executive Center Drive, Suite 150 
Columbia, SC 29210
Phone: (803) 253-4192 
Fax: (803) 253-7539

A person requesting an advisory opinion may request confidentiality in which case his name and governmental entity will not be disclosed in the advisory opinion. Upon a majority vote of the Commission members present, a confidential advisory opinion may be discussed in executive session. 

101 Executive Center Drive, Suite 100
Columbia, SC 29210

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