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.
September 22, 1989
A judge may participate in civic and charitable activities which meet the following limitations and/or criteria:
- The activities may not detract from the dignity of the judicial office.
- The activities may not interfere with the performance of judicial duties.
- The activities may not reflect adversely on the judge's impartiality.
- The activities may not give the appearance of impropriety.
- The judge may serve as an officer, director, trustee or nonlegal advisor of a bona fide educational, religious, fraternal or civic/charitable organization only if (a) it is unlikely that the organization will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge, (b) it is unlikely the organization will become engaged in adversary proceedings in any court, (c) the judge does not personally solicit funds, and (d) the prestige of the judicial office is not used for solicitation of funds.
A judge is frequently asked to participate in a variety of charitable activities and seeks guidance on the acceptable parameters of participation. Specifically, the judge asks about the following situations:
- Serving as trustee or director of charitable/civic organizations and listing the judge's name and office on the letterhead of the organization.
- On behalf of an organization, sending letters over the judge's signature or designating the judge by judicial title, seeking the addressee's participation on the organization's committees or seeking funds.
- Hosting a progressive dinner where proceeds go to the organization but the judge selects and invites the guests.
- Participating in a walk-a-thon and allowing others to solicit sponsorship of the judge's walk.
- Discussing programs and needs of the civic/charitable organization at a media broadcast, or answering telethon phones where the contributors call in donations.
- Being an honoree at or sponsor for a testimonial dinner for a civic/charitable organization, all contributions going to the civic/charitable cause.
The Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct provides the following guidelines for participation in charitable and civic activities:
- The activities may not detract from the dignity of the judicial office (MCJC 5A).
- The activities may not interfere with the performance of judicial duties (MCJC 5A).
- The activities may not reflect adversely on the judge's impartiality (MCJC 5B).
- The activities may not give the appearance of impropriety (MCJC 2A).
- The judge may serve as an officer, director, trustee or nonlegal advisor of a bona fide educational, religious, fraternal or civic/charitable organization (MCJC 5B) except:
"(1) A judge should not serve if it is likely that the organization will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before him or will be regularly engaged in adversary proceedings in any court.
"(2) A judge should not individually solicit funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of his office for that purpose, but he may be listed as an officer, director, or trustee of such an organization. A judge may, however, join a general appeal on behalf of an educational, religious, charitable, or fraternal organization, or speak on behalf of such organization."
A judge may not personally solicit funds for an educational, religious, fraternal or civic/charitable organization or cause. Speeches, broadcasts, or other communications where the judge asks others to contribute would therefore be improper. This would apply whether or not the judge is identified by judicial title.
A judge may be a member of an educational, religious, fraternal or civic/charitable, fund-raising committee as long as the judge does not individually solicit money, CI-641. MCJC 5B permits a judge to serve as director or trustee of charitable or civic organizations. It follows that a judge may be identified by name and judicial office on a letterhead, in circulated literature or in any other communications disseminated by the organization of which the judge is a member. There is no prohibition against the organization circulating fund-raising letters on such letterhead, provided the judge is not the sole signator of the letter, CI-641.
MCJC 5B(2) does allow a judge's participation in appeals on behalf of educational, religious, fraternal or civic/charitable organizations. Thus, if a board or committee sends a mailing to a variety of people who are known to support the organization, the presence of the judge's name on that letterhead or as one of several signators would not be improper, CI-641.
MCJC 5A allows a judge generally to write, lecture, teach, speak and consult on nonlegal subjects, appear before public nonlegal bodies and engage in the arts, sports or other social and recreational activities, as long as the guidelines are not violated. Therefore a judge is allowed to participate in a walk-a-thon, softball game, etc., or other educational, religious, fraternal or civic/charitable causes as long as the judge does not personally solicit contributions, does not individually solicit for backers or sponsors of other participants, and does not allow others to use the prestige of the judge's office to coerce solicitations on judge's behalf.
A judge may participate and be listed in promotional materials as a participant in an educational, religious, fraternal, or civic/charitable activities, as long as the participation does not involve the judge individually soliciting funds. A judge may host a telethon, for example, where a number of people phone in contributions in support of the organization or cause, but the judge should not act as the auctioneer, CI-641.
A judge may attend a testimonial dinner in the judge's honor held by a charitable or civic organization where the proceeds of the dinner are allocated to a charitable or civic purpose, JI-8; MCJC 5B, 5C(4)(a). A judge may regularly participate in dinners held by educational, religious or fraternal organizations.
A judge should not participate in membership solicitation if doing so could be perceived as using the prestige of the judicial office to coerce participation. A judge is permitted to solicit membership in an educational, religious, fraternal or civic-charitable organization as long as the membership solicitation is not included in the same letter as a solicitation of funds.