The Newspaper Rule and a Massachusetts Politician

One of the classic statements in a compliance program is “don’t do something if you would be embarrassed to see a story about it on the front page of the newspaper.” Just because something is legal, it does not mean it’s ethical or a good thing to do.

A recent example popped up in Massachusetts politics involving Middlesex County Sheriff James V. DiPaola. (I just voted for him in November.) He was planning to retire, even though he had just been re-elected. Retire, but continue working as the Sheriff.

It turns out there is an exception in the Massachusetts Pension Law that allows retirees to run for paid elective office without losing their pensions.

DiPaola was a Malden police officer for 18 years before being elected a state representative in 1992. He then became Middlesex sheriff in a 1996 and was re-elected three times (including 2010). If he had kept working his pension would have remained mostly flat, since he has enough years of service to receive the maximum benefit allowed.

It turns out, if he retired before the election and didn’t collect his salary for the rest of 2010, he could collect his pension and receive his salary as Sheriff. A legal, but ethically troubling position.

Instead, he did the right thing.

“I’d always be remembered for this, for double-dipping, that that would be my legacy,’’ … crediting a Globe reporter’s question for his spark of conscience. “From a financial perspective it was great. It was legal. But I tossed and turned all night. I did put myself first this time, and I don’t want it to end that way.’’

In part his decision was forced by reporter from the Boston Globe. Sean Murphy had confronted DiPaola. With the real threat of having his action end up on the front page of the newspaper, DiPaola changed his mind.

Unfortunately, the revelation ended tragically when DiPaola died from apparent suicide this past weekend.