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Guest George Silverman

Confidentiality of Ethics Procedures

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Guest George Silverman

I lodged an ethics grievance with our national organization against our local officers. It was accepted for adjudication and the National ethics committee found completely in my favor. The accused requested a hearing, then proceeded to obstruct the hearing, threatening a lawsuit because they objected to the venue and hearing officer. National postponed for over a year. Two of the three recently resigned. The third was a minor, though culpable player. The Nation Executive Committee recently closed the case without rendering a verdict, on the grounds that they have no jurisdiction over the two resignees (I say they have jurisdiction over their conditions for re-admission) and that it would be an "exercise in futility" to rule on the case against the remaining member, since he is no longer an officer and has promised not to run for office for at least five years (in connection with another settlement). Even though the Executive Committee has not followed its own bylaws and RONR, I realize that as a practical matter there is little I can do but talk about the case. However, in its ruling to close the case, the Executive Committee says that RONR says that all aspects of the case are confidential. The only thing I can find that is relevant is the paragraph in the middle of p 655, but that seems to apply to the verdict of a trial. Since there was no trial, can I state the facts of the case and the events that happened (such as the interim ethics committee ruling)? Are there any restrictions on my speech, ether than the obvious caveats to avoid libel and slander?

 

George Silverman

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Sometimes resignation (to avoid further disciplinary proceedings) is a good thing, and saves time and aggravation for all concerned.

 

But if a society wishes to follow through with discipline, they can do so by refusing to accept the resignation of the accused.

 

It's not clear where you fall in this scenario.  If you were a member of a body in executive session, you can't discuss what occurred.  If you're not a member of the National Executive Committee, then you have no knowledge of what went on in their meetings, and therefore wouldn't seem to be restricted.

 

So you can talk about what you know to be true, but with the obvious caveats.  

 

Also, you have to ask yourself what is to be gained.  

 

"He who seeks vengeance should first dig two graves."

 

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Thanks for your prompt reply. I am just a regular member — not an officer or member of the National Executive Committee. I have not been a party to any executive sessions. 

 

This is only about the remaining member. The other two resignations have been accepted. 

 

What is to be gained is exactly the basis of the National organization closing the case. They say there is nothing to be gained. I say that they need to find the remaining member guilty of my charges of his using the ethics procedures to issue threats and bogus charges, i.e., weaponizing the ethics procedures. I'm not interested in punishment as much as establishing the principle that members cannot be threatened by vague ethics charges, by unknown people — actions which have caused many resignations in the past. In any event, there is little I can do about their closing the case before issuing a ruling. My concern is my ability to talk about it. Is there anywhere that says that I cannot?

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Thanks for your prompt reply. I am just a regular member — not an officer or member of the National Executive Committee. I have not been a party to any executive sessions.

This is only about the remaining member. The other two resignations have been accepted.

What is to be gained is exactly the basis of the National organization closing the case. They say there is nothing to be gained. I say that they need to find the remaining member guilty of my charges of his using the ethics procedures to issue threats and bogus charges, i.e., weaponizing the ethics procedures. I'm not interested in punishment as much as establishing the principle that members cannot be threatened by vague ethics charges, by unknown people — actions which have caused many resignations in the past. In any event, there is little I can do about their closing the case before issuing a ruling. My concern is my ability to talk about it. Is there anywhere that says that I cannot?

Based on the facts provided, there appears to be no rule in RONR which would prevent you from talking about this. If you choose to talk about it during a meeting, keep in mind that the rules of decorum apply.

I would be sure to check your own rules, however, because I would not be surprised if the organization's rules say something on this subject.

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I am not aware of any rule that prohibits you, outside of a meeting, from talking about what you personally know or believe about a member. 

 

Making derogatory remarks about a fellow member in debate violates the rules of decorum.  Talking about what you learned in an executive session violates the secrecy and confidentiality of an executive session. 

 

However, keep in mind that others may believe it is not appropriate for you to be "bad mouthing" a fellow member, whether at a meeting or in a local pub, and you may find yourself on the receiving end of some kind of disciplinary proceedings or even a lawsuit.  Sometimes it's best to just let go of something,  hard as that can be at times.

 

It's a bit of  a tightrope.

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S1.) However, in its ruling to close the case, the Executive Committee says that RONR says that all aspects of the case are confidential.

 

S2.) The only thing I can find that is relevant is the paragraph in the middle of p 655, but that seems to apply to the verdict of a trial.

Since there was no trial, can I state the facts of the case and the events that happened (such as the interim ethics committee ruling)?

Are there any restrictions on my speech, ether than the obvious caveats to avoid libel and slander?

 

Reply to S1.

 

Since the body of authority (your "Executive Committee")

had "ruled" (your terminology!)

that "all aspects of the case are confidential",

then -- all aspects of the case are confidential.

 

That's seems clear enough.

 

***

 

Reply to S2.

 

You can speak all you want, as long as you do not violate the "ruling" of your "Executive Committe" regarding "confidentiality."

Compy with all the rules of your organization.

Even this one.

Other than that, speak-away all you want.

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Reply to S1.

Since the body of authority (your "Executive Committee")

had "ruled" (your terminology!)

that "all aspects of the case are confidential",

then -- all aspects of the case are confidential.

That's seems clear enough.

***

Reply to S2.

You can speak all you want, as long as you do not violate the "ruling" of your "Executive Committe" regarding "confidentiality."

Compy with all the rules of your organization.

Even this one.

Other than that, speak-away all you want.

It's not entirely clear that the organization's rules do provide that all aspects of the case are confidential, and if they do not, it is not clear that the national organization's executive committee has the authority to make such a declaration in the absence of such a rule.

Although I suppose that, as a practical matter, it may be prudent to listen to a body which has the authority to discipline members. :)

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Thank you all so much for your help.

 

I've decided to ask them for the wording in RONR or their own bylaws that requires confidentiality. If they make a resolution imposing confidentiality, I will question their authority to do so. I believe that the phrase is that they would be acting "ultra vires." I'm not looking to bad-mouth anyone; all I'm looking to do is be able to point out that threatening people with bogus ethics prosecutions (as the local officers tried to do with me) didn't go so well the last time and shouldn't be tried again. Also, I need to be able to talk about it — mostly to answer questions about what went on — to restore my reputation. I would have to go into some details of the events to make it real. 

 

It's interesting to note that if they hadn't abandoned the ethics procedures in RONR, closing the case, and come to even a "slap on the wrist" verdict, I would have been severely restricted from mentioning details about the verdict, per RONR, 11th ed., p. 655. The other side had been threatening a lawsuit, so the most probable explanation is that they just chickened out and dropped the case. It's not such a terrible outcome, as long as I can talk about it to restore my reputation.

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