Legal costs for defending an ethics complaint can be high. Expenses range broadly based on numerous factors, but the cost of defending even a frivolous complaint can run up into the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Several states allow for the recovery of reasonable attorneys’ fees when defending against ethics complaints in certain situations. States most often permit recovery of costs if a complaint is found to have been filed in bad faith. Definitions vary, but complaints are generally considered frivolous or filed in bad faith if the complainant knowingly or intentionally files false allegations with the intent to harm an official’s reputation.
In a few states, costs may be covered by an ethics commission if its findings against a defendant are overturned on appeal. Others permit the prevailing party in a contested case to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees.
The following table provides a list of each state’s statutory provisions that may allow a public official or employee to recover legal fees incurred defending against an ethics complaint. Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia are also included.
This table is intended to provide general information and does not necessarily address all aspects of this topic. Because the facts of each situation may vary, this information may need to be supplemented by consulting legal advisors. All content is up to date through 12/17/2019.