Editor's Note: This opinion was modified by the Standing Committee on Judicial Ethics on January 31, 2014, by the addition of the footnote.
NOTE: Various references in this ethics opinion to portions of the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct are no longer accurate due to amendments effective August 1, 2013. Click here to review language added to (which is underlined) and language stricken from (which is indicated by strikethrough) Canons 2, 4, 5, and 7.
A judge may write a regular legal column of a general information nature for a newspaper, and may contribute to radio or television programs of a similar nature, provided that such activity does not interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties, and provided that all aspects of such activity conform with the provisions of the code of judicial conduct.
References: MCJC 4. Op 194 is superseded.
A judge asks about the propriety of writing a general legal information newspaper column on a regular basis, or regularly contributing to a radio or television program which follows the same format.
Opinion 194, relying upon Canon 31 of the former Canons of Judicial Ethics, states:
"A judge has the same right of free speech as any other citizen. Nevertheless, the unlimited exercise of this right will sometimes impair a judge's official usefulness . . . he should not appear to be seeking opportunities for self-advertising . . . he may occasionally write for publication in a professional journal or a general periodical. Repeated contributions to a local publication chiefly circulated among the judge's constituents—as for example, the writing of a legal column in a local newspaper—create the impression that the judge is going out of his way to keep his name before the public, and should not be indulged in."
The opinion concluded that it would be ethically improper for a judge to write a regular legal column for a local newspaper.
The former Canons of Judicial Ethics were superseded by the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct [MCJC], effective October 1, 1974. The quoted language of former Canon 31 does not appear in the new Code. MCJC 4 states generally that:
"As a judicial officer and person specially learned in the law, a judge is in a unique position to contribute to the improvement of the law, the legal system and the administration of justice . . . . To the extent that his time permits, he is encouraged to do so, either independently or through a bar association, judicial conference or other organization dedicated to the improvement of the law . . . .
"A judge, subject to the proper performance of his judicial duties, may engage in the following quasi-judicial activities:
"A. He may speak, write, lecture, teach, and participate in other activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice . . . ."
Activities which enhance public knowledge about the law, the legal system and the administration of justice are clearly encompassed by terms of MCJC 4. The absence of the specific constraints found in the former Canons of Judicial Ethics, along with the encouragement offered in present MCJC 4 "to speak" and "write" concerning the law, lead the committee to conclude that a judge may with propriety write a regular legal column of a general informational nature for a newspaper, and may contribute to radio or television programs of similar nature, provided that such activity does not interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties, and provided that all aspects of such activity conform with the provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct.1
Opinion 194 is superseded.