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.
November 7, 1989
A judge may serve as a member of the board of directors of a governmental agency which evaluates and administers funding grants.
References: MCJC 2A, 4C, 5B.
A newly appointed district court judge has asked whether it is ethically proper for him to continue to serve on the board of directors of a governmental agency, whose function is to evaluate proposals and award and administer grants of funds to various groups. Some of the groups would frequently be engaged in litigation before the judge on matters unrelated to the governmental agency of which the judge is a board member.
MCJC 4C states:
"A judge, subject to the proper performance of his judicial duties, may engage in the following quasi-judicial activities:
"C. He may serve as a member, officer, or director of an organization, or governmental agency devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice. He may assist such an organization in raising funds and may participate in their management and investment, but should not individually solicit funds. He may make recommendations to public and private fund granting agencies on projects and programs concerning the law, the legal system and the administration of justice."
MCJC 4C permits a judge to continue as a member of a governmental agency which evaluates and administers grant fund proposals to groups, even when those groups regularly appear in the judge's courtroom, provided the matters are unrelated to the judge's position with the organization or governmental agency. However, the judge's association with the organization or governmental agency should be disclosed by the judge to the litigants, and the judge should disqualify her/himself if the parties so request.
A different result likely would be required if grantees frequently appear before the judge on matters which affect the governmental agency of which the judge is a member. Cf., MCJC 5B. Under MCJC 5B, a judge is required to resign from a religious, educational, or civic/charitable board, if it is likely the organization will be engaged in proceedings which would ordinarily come before the judge, or is frequently engaged in proceedings before any court. There is no such requirement under MCJC 4C, but a judge should not preside in a matter if doing so could result in an appearance of impropriety. MCJC 2A.
Whether or not a member, officer, or director of an interested organization, a judge may make recommendations to public and private fund granting agencies with regard to projects and programs concerning the law, the legal system and the administration of justice.