62-70.  Ex parte communications.

(a)        In all matters and proceedings pending on the Commission's formal docket, with adversary parties of record, all communications or contact of any nature whatsoever between any party and the Commission or any of its members, or any hearing examiner assigned to such docket, whether verbal or written, formal or informal, which pertains to the merits of such matter or proceeding, shall be made only with full knowledge of, or notice to, all other parties of record. All parties shall have an opportunity to be informed fully as to the nature of such communication and to be present and heard with respect thereto. In all matters and proceedings which are judicial in nature, it is the specific intent of this section that all members of the Commission shall conduct all trials, hearings and proceedings before them in the manner and in accordance with the judicial standards applicable to judges of the General Court of Justice, as provided in Chapter 7A of the General Statutes, and upon the initiation of any such proceedings, and particularly during the trial or hearing thereof, there shall be no communications or contacts of any nature, including telephone communications, written correspondence, or direct office conferences, between any party or such party's attorney and any member of the Commission or any hearing examiner, without all other parties to such proceeding having full notice and opportunity to be present and heard with respect to any such contact or communication.

Any commissioner who knowingly receives any such communication or contact during such proceeding and who fails promptly to report the same to the Attorney General, or who otherwise violates any of the provisions of this subsection shall be liable to impeachment. Any examiner who knowingly receives any such communication or contact during such proceeding and who fails promptly to report the same to the Attorney General or who otherwise violates any of the provisions of this subsection shall be subject to dismissal from employment for cause.

(b)        In the event any such communication or contact shall be received by the Commission or any commissioner or any hearing examiner assigned to such docket without such knowledge or notice to all other parties, the Commission shall immediately cause a formal record of such violation to be made in its docket and thereafter no ruling or decision shall be made in favor of such violating party until the aggrieved party shall waive such violation or the Commission shall find as a fact that such party was not prejudiced thereby or that any such prejudice, if present, has been removed.

(c)        Any contacts or communications made in violation of this section which are not recorded by the Commission may be recorded by notice to the Commission by any aggrieved party and, unless the Commission shall find that such violation did not in fact occur, such recording shall have the same effect as if done by the Commission.

(d)       In matters not under this section, the Commission may secure information and receive communications ex parte, it being the purpose  of this section to protect adversary interests where they exist but not otherwise to restrict unduly the administrative and legislative functions of the Commission.

(e)        This section shall not modify any notice required in the case of pleadings and proceedings which are subject to other requirements of notice to parties of record, whether by statute or by rule of the Commission, and the Commission may adopt reasonable rules to coordinate this section with such other requirements.

(f)        In addition to the foregoing provisions regarding contacts with members of the Commission and hearing examiners, if any party of record, including the assistant attorney general when he is a party, confers with or otherwise contacts any staff personnel employed by the Commission regarding the merits of a pending proceeding, the staff employee shall promptly forward by regular mail a memorandum of the date and general subject matter of such contact to all other parties of record to the proceeding.

(g)        Notwithstanding the foregoing, no communication by a public utility or by the public staff regarding the level of rates specifically proposed to be charged by a public utility shall be made or directed to the Commission, a member of the Commission, or hearing examiner, except in the form of written tariff, petition, application, pleading, written response, written recommendation, recorded conference, intervention, answer, pleading, sworn testimony and related exhibits, oral argument on the record, or brief. Willful violations of the provisions of this section on the part of any public utility shall subject such public utility to the penalties provided in G.S. 62-310(a). Willful violations of the provisions of this section by a member of the public staff shall subject such person to dismissal for cause. (1963, c. 1165, s. 1; 1977, c. 468, s. 14; 1979, c. 332, s. 2.)