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.
July 19, 1989
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.
References: MCJC 5B, 5C(4)(a).
A judge has been selected honoree of a foreign labor organization and "roastee" of a national charity. The judge did not campaign for the honors, will not sell tickets to the events or sign any letter requesting any person attend or contribute funds. The organizations intend to use the proceeds of the events for charitable purposes. The judge asks whether the judge may attend to accept the honors.
MCJC 5C(4)(a) allows a judge to accept a gift not to exceed a total value of $100.00 incident to a public testimonial to the judge. MCJC 2A urges judges to avoid even the appearance of impropriety or impartiality. We are aware that one authority holds that such participation is improper because the judge's name and the prestige of the office are used to encourage individuals to attend and contribute funds. JTC A/O 95.
MCJC 5B states:
"B. A judge may participate in civic and charitable activities that do not reflect adversely upon his impartiality or interfere with the performance of his judicial duties. A judge may serve as an officer, director, trustee, or nonlegal advisor of a bona fide educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization, subject to the following limitations:
"(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."
Clauses (1) and (2) modify the second sentence of introductory paragraph B, and apply to the judge serving as officer, director, etc. of the charitable organization. They do not apply to the judge as honoree.
ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct 5B(2) states:
"A judge should not 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. He should not be a speaker or the guest of honor at an organization's fund-raising events, but he may attend such events." Emphasis added.
The ABA Model language was recommended to the Court for adoption in Michigan, but the Court declined to adopt it. The fact that the Michigan Code does not include the emphasized sentence from the ABA Model should be construed to mean that the Michigan Supreme Court has determined such activities should not be per se prohibited. For example, MCJC 5B(2) specifically allows a judge to speak at such events, while the ABA Model would prohibit the activity.
We fail to see how the judge's acceptance of such an honorary award or testimonial is improper, given that MCJC 5C(4)(a) explicitly allows such testimonials and the judge will not solicit funds or attendance to the event.
Participation in the events is not improper.