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Ethics Opinion

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This opinion replaces J-1, which was repealed and withdrawn by the Standing Committee on Judicial Ethics on January 31, 2014. The Board of Commissioners approved the repeal and withdrawal of J-1 and the adoption of J-008 as a formal opinion on March 5, 2014.

J-8

January 31, 2014

SYLLABUS

    A judge may participate in civic and charitable activities which meet the following limitations and/or criteria:

    1. The activities may not detract from the dignity of the judicial office.

    2. The activities may not interfere with the performance of judicial duties.

    3. The activities may not reflect adversely on the judge's impartiality.

    4. The activities may not give the appearance of impropriety.

    5. The judge may serve and be listed as an officer, director, trustee or nonlegal advisor of a bona fide educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization and serve as a member of an honorary committee or join a general appeal of such an 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 or membership.

    6. The judge may speak at or receive an award in connection with an event of a educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization, and even allow his or her name or title to be used in advertising the event, but may not individually solicit funds.

    References: MCJC 2A, 4B, 4C, 4D; CI-641.

TEXT

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:

  1. Serving as trustee or director of charitable/civic organizations and listing the judge's name and office on the letterhead of the organization.

  2. 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.

  3. Hosting a progressive dinner where proceeds go to the organization but the judge selects and invites the guests.

  4. Participating in a walk-a-thon and allowing others to solicit sponsorship of the judge's walk.

  5. Discussing programs and needs of the civic/charitable organization at a media broadcast, or answering telethon phones where the contributors call in donations.

  6. 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:

  1. The activities may not detract from the dignity of the judicial office. MCJC 4B.

  2. The activities may not interfere with the performance of judicial duties. MCJC 4C.

  3. The activities may not reflect adversely on the judge's impartiality. MCJC 4C.

  4. The activities may not give the appearance of impropriety. MCJC 2A.

  5. The judge may serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of a bona fide educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization except a "judge should not serve if it is likely that the organization will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge or will be regularly engaged in adversary proceedings in any court." MCJC 4C.

  6. A judge should not individually solicit funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization or any organization or governmental agency devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice. MCJC 4D.

  7. A judge should not use or permit the use of the prestige of office for the purpose articulated in paragraph 6. MCJC 4D.

  8. A judge may serve as a member of an honorary committee or may join a general appeal on behalf of an organization, and allow his or her or title name to be used in advertising the judge's involvement in an event, so long as the judge does not individually solicit funds. MCJC 4D.

A judge may be a member of an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic fund-raising committee as long as the judge does not individually solicit money, CI-641. MCJC 4C permits a judge to serve and be listed as director or trustee of charitable or civic organizations, so long as participation meets the requirements of the other Canons mentioned above. Therefore, 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. Additionally, if a board or committee sends a general appeal 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. MCJC 4D, CI-641.

A judge is permitted to solicit membership in an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization as long as the membership solicitation is not included in the same letter as a solicitation of funds. But, 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 due to MCJC 2A and 4C.

A judge may not personally solicit funds for an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization or cause. MCJC 4D. A judge may not select and invite guests, and host a progressive dinner where the proceeds are given to support an organization because this is tantamount to an individual solicitation, prohibited by MCJC 4D. Speeches, broadcasts, or other communications where the judge personally asks others to contribute would therefore be improper. This would apply whether or not the judge is identified by judicial title. Therefore, participation in a telethon as a special guest offering support of the organization or using the prestige of office to encourage contributions is prohibited by the same Canon.

MCJC 4B 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, charitable, fraternal or civic 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 the judge's behalf. A judge may participate and be listed in promotional materials as a participant in an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic activities, as long as the participation does not involve the judge individually soliciting funds.

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. MCJC 4D. The judge may even allow his or her name or title to be used in advertising the judge's involvement in the event as long as the judge does not individually solicit funds. MCJC 4D. A judge may regularly participate in dinners held by educational, religious or fraternal organizations.

 
     

 

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