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Ethics Act: Frequently Asked Questions

Individuals Covered by the State Government Ethics Act

Against whom may a complaint be filed?
Complaints may be filed against anyone who is subject to the State Government Ethics Act, which means anyone who is a “covered person” or legislative employee. These individuals include “public servants” (many, but not all, elected, appointed, or employed individuals in the executive branch), legislators, legislative employees, justices, judges, district attorneys, and clerks of court.
Are all state employees or appointed officials covered by the State Government Ethics Act?
No. Only those positions identified in the State Government Ethics Act are covered. These positions include “public servants” (G.S. 138A-3(30)), legislators, most legislative employees, and justices, judges, district attorneys, and clerks of court. For a complete list of covered persons and legislative employees, click here.
Are local government officials and employees covered by the State Government Ethics Act?
No. Local elected and appointed officials and employees are not subject to the State Government Ethics Act. However, many local government officials and employees also serve in positions covered by the State Government Ethics Act. For example, many are members of a board or commission whose members are covered.
Are assistant district attorneys covered by the State Government Ethics Act?
No. Only elected district attorneys are covered.

Filing a Complaint

Who may file a complaint?
Anyone may file a complaint against a “covered person” or legislative employee. Also, public servants and those responsible for hiring, appointing or supervising a public servant may file a complaint. The Commission may also initiate an investigation on its own motion.
What are the requirements for filing a complaint?
A complaint must be in writing, signed, sworn, state who the complaint is against, and allege specific facts concerning the violation. The complaint must be filed within two (2) years of when the complainant (filer) knew or should have known of the alleged violation. Only complaints filed by a public servant or individual responsible for hiring, appointing, or supervising a public servant and complaints initiated by the Commission do not have to be sworn. The Commission provides a form for filing a complaint.
Can I file a complaint by phone?
No. By law, complaints must be in writing.
Can I file an anonymous complaint?
No. By law, complaints must be signed and sworn.
Does a complaint have to be filed for the Commission to initiate an investigation?
No. The Commission can initiate its own investigation.

After a Complaint is Filed

If a complaint is filed against me, will I be notified?
Yes. The Commission must notify you when it receives a written allegation of unethical conduct or when the Commission initiates its own investigation. In addition, the Commission must provide you with a copy of the complaint within 10 business days.
Is the complaint confidential?
Generally, yes. Complaints, responses, and other documents connected to the investigation are confidential, unless:
  1. The individual against whom the complaint was filed authorizes release; or,
  2. For “public servants” (G.S. 138A-3(30)), a hearing commences.
If a complaint is dismissed, will the complainant (filer) and individual against whom it was filed be notified?
Yes. If the Commission dismisses a complaint, the complainant and covered person or legislative employee will be notified of the dismissal.
What happens if the Commission finds probable cause to believe that a violation has occurred?
  1. For public servants, the Commission holds a hearing open to the public (see below).
  2. For legislators, it refers the complaint to the Legislative Ethics Committee.
  3. For legislative employees, it refers the complaint to the General Assembly.
  4. For justices and judges, it refers the complaint to the Judicial Standards Commission.
  5. For district attorneys, it refers the complaint to the senior resident superior court judge.
  6. For clerks of court, it refers the complaint to the chief district court judge.

Hearings for Public Servants

Who is a public servant?
“Public servants” are many, but not all, elected and appointed State officials and employees. “Public servants” include only those positions listed in G.S. 138A-3(30). A complete list of all covered persons, including public servants, can be found here.
Will the complainant (filer) be notified of the hearing?
Yes. Both the complainant and the public servant will be notified.
What rights does the public servant have at the hearing?
The public servant has the right to present evidence, call and examine witnesses, cross-examine witnesses, present exhibits, and be represented by an attorney.
Is the hearing open?
Yes. Except for certain confidential matters, hearings are open to the public.
Do the complaint, responses, and certain other documents become public records?
Yes. After a hearing commences, the complaint, response, and all documents offered at the hearing become public record.
What are the consequences for violating the State Government Ethics Act?
If the Commission finds clear and convincing evidence that the public servant has violated the State Government Ethics Act, the Commission may issue a private admonishment or may refer the matter to the appointing authority or employing entity for further action, including removal from the public servant's public position. If the Commission finds substantial evidence of a criminal violation, the Commission refers the matter to the Attorney General and district attorney for possible prosecution.