Ethics Commission Exonerates Johanna Harris: No Violation. No Penalty.

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PROVIDENCE, July 21, 2015 – Today, the Rhode Island Ethics Commission dismissed Peter Petrarca’s complaint against me, ruling that I did not violate the Code of Ethics and imposing no penalty.

In March 2014, when I had been on the Providence Licensing Board for only six weeks, the City’s Human Resources Department asked me to address an urgent personnel matter. In response, I provided executive coaching to a senior manager during the month of April 2014. My one-time professional services were performed on an emergency basis for less than $5,000 in compliance with City’s rules for a no-bid contract. Apart from my position on the Licensing Board, I have no continuing contractual relationship with the Human Resources Department or any other City department.

To find a violation of the Code of Ethics, the Commission must show that the conduct under scrutiny was “knowing and willful.” Ruling that my acceptance of the no-bid contract was not a knowing and willful violation of the Code, the Commission noted that I had voluntarily reported my contract twice to the Commission.

Last September, Mr. Petrarca brought suit in Superior Court to bar me from deciding his clients’ cases on the grounds that I would be biased by the mere fact of his ethics complaint. In October, Justice Brian Van Couyghen denied Mr. Petrarca’s motion for a preliminary injunction, and in March of this year, Mr. Petrarca’s lawsuit was dismissed in its entirety.

In the year that I’ve spent defending myself against the ethics complaint, I’ve learned a lot about the Ethics Commission. In the coming year, I plan to write about what I’ve learned.

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