The State Ethics Commission has the authority to investigate complaints alleging unethical conduct by covered persons and legislative employees. “Covered persons” include legislators, “judicial officers” (justices, judges, district attorneys, and clerks of court), and “public servants” (certain elected, appointed, and employed State officials). Not all State employees or appointees are covered persons. Also, local elected and appointed officials are not “covered persons” by virtue of their local public position. The Commission may also initiate an investigation on its own motion. The Commission has the authority to investigate alleged violations of:
- The State Government Ethics Act (N.C.G.S. Ch. 138A).
- The Legislative Ethics Act (N.C.G.S. Ch. 120, Art. 14).
- Criminal law by a covered person in the performance of that individual’s official duties
- Laws governing promises or threats to obtain political contributions or support (N.C.G.S. 126-14).
Anyone may file a complaint, but certain requirements must be met. Complaints must be in writing, signed, state specific facts alleging a violation, and be filed within 2 years of the date the complainant (filer) knew or should have known of the alleged unethical conduct. The Commission provides a form for filing a complaint. Once a complaint is properly filed, the Commission will conduct a preliminary inquiry and, if warranted, determine whether there is probable cause to believe that a violation has occurred. If the Commission finds no probable cause, the complaint will be dismissed. If the Commission finds probable cause.
- For public servants, the Commission may proceed to a hearing;
- For legislators, refer the complaint to the Legislative Ethics Committee;
- For legislative employees, refer the complaint to the General Assembly;
- For justices and judges, refer the complaint to the Judicial Standards Commission;
- For district attorneys, refer the complaint to the senior resident superior court judge;
- For clerks of court, refer the complaint to the chief district court judge.
Complaints are confidential, unless the covered person or legislative employee authorizes its release, or for public servants, a hearing is held. Commission hearings are open to the public. If a covered person or legislative employee violates the State Government Ethics Act, he or she may be removed from his or her public position.