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Kopelman and Paige issues measured opinion on Espindola’s possible ethics conflict over wind turbines

FAIRHAVEN – Selectman Robert Espindola may vote on issues related to the wind turbines, according to an opinion issued last week by the law firm Kopelman and Paige.

The opinion was couched in measured language, however. Attorney Lauren Goldberg said Mr. Espindola would “not be prohibited from voting” because he “does not appear” to have a financial interest in the turbines.

The opinion was provided to the selectmen’s office and to the state Ethics Commission. Mr. Espindola said he wants to wait to hear back from the Ethics Commission before commenting.

Mr. Espindola was involved in a lawsuit with residents who wanted to stop the turbines from being built and now want to shut them down. He dropped out of the lawsuit before running for selectman in the town election this spring. He won that race by a wide margin.

Ms. Goldberg said Mr. Espindola didn’t appear to have a financial interest related to the wind turbines because they are sufficiently distant from his house, at 1,850 feet, to not cause him harm.

Participants in the lawsuit contend that the turbines can have a negative impact on properties in that area, however.

Several weeks ago, the Board of Health said it had received 130 complaints about the turbines in an area that formed a circle around them.

Ms. Goldberg hinged her opinion almost entirely on whether Mr. Espindola or a family member had a financial interest relating to the wind turbines, which could include an abutter whose property value might be harmed by them.

Ms. Goldberg said his past involvement in the lawsuit “does not in and of itself create a financial interest.”

The attorney said such a determination must be made “on a case-by-case” basis, however, and that “each scenario” that comes up for a selectmen’s vote must be evaluated according to the specific facts involved.

She said if Mr. Espindola or a family member is involved in a lawsuit or complaint involving the turbines, he would have to recuse himself on that matter. On the other hand, if a family member is expressing an opinion before the board, he would not have to recuse himself if it is just an opinion, not something that involves a financial interest.

The opinion became more nuanced, when Ms. Goldberg added, “Be reminded, however, that even if you are not prohibited by the provisions of the Conflict of Interest Law from participation in a particular matter, you nevertheless retain the discretion to recuse yourself from the proceedings as you deem appropriate.”

She added, “For example, although you may not have a prohibited financial interest in the law suit involving the turbines, your prior involvement as a party may complicate the status of the law suit were you to participate.”

She added, “There may be other circumstances where you choose to recuse yourself ‘just because.'”

The attorney said that in light of Mr. Espindola’s previous involvement in the lawsuit, he should file a disclosure with the state Ethics Commission.