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Ethics Opinion

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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.

JI-46

February 20, 1992

SYLLABUS

    A judge may participate in a county wide millage campaign intended to raise tax revenues, a significant portion of which will be used to maintain and enhance court operations and will result in improvement of the legal system and the administration of justice. The judge's activities should focus upon matters pertinent to the courts.

    References: MCJC 4; JTC A/O 61.

TEXT

A judge makes several inquiries regarding the participation of the judiciary in a county wide election campaign which seeks to renew and double a 1.5 mill tax levy designated "for public safety." The majority of the funds generated are for operational costs in the sheriff's department, and the office of the prosecuting attorney. A significant portion of the funds raised by the levy defray operational expenses in the circuit and district courts and especially in probate court/juvenile division. The added levy is also to be for the development of a drug education program in local schools and the county health department which will supplement current court probation services.

A millage campaign committee composed of "elected officials, civic leaders and other interested persons" has been formed to support the proposal. The campaign committee has asked for judicial support in several ways that raise concerns for the inquirer:

  1. May a judge solicit financial contributions for the millage campaign from circuit, district and probate judges whose courts will be affected by the election result?
  2. May the fact of a financial contribution by a judge be used by the campaign committee to promote the millage proposal?
  3. May judges individually or as a group endorse the millage proposal and may the committee use such endorsements in other promotional activities?
  4. May judges promote the millage proposal privately such as in personal telephone calls, or publicly, such as in public speeches?

MCJC 4 states:

    "As a judicial officer and person especially learned in the law, a judge is in an unique position to contribute to the improvement of the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, including revision of substantive and procedural law and improvement of criminal and juvenile 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:

    1. He may speak, write, lecture, teach, and participate in other activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.

    2. He may appear at a public hearing before an executive or legislative body or official on matters concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, and he may otherwise consult with such executive or legislative body or official on such matters.

    3. 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."

The activities sought to be undertaken by the inquirer in support of a millage tax levy for "public safety," appear largely authorized under MCJC 4 as cited above. Portions of the anticipated tax revenues will be directly utilized by the courts for operations and to enhance the scope and effectiveness of probation services respecting drug abuse. It seems plain that such activities will tend to improve the functioning of the several courts that will receive tax revenue from the levy and thus will tend to improve the legal system and to enhance the administration of justice.

The inquirer aptly notes that any effort to raise taxes by a public vote is bound to be a matter of some controversy. It must also be noted that the undertaking is distinctly political in nature and may not be entirely free of partisan considerations. It is with such considerations in mind that we say any activities of a judicial officer in connection with the "public safety" millage campaign should be undertaken with circumspection. Such activities should focus upon the areas of particular interest to the courts.

MCJC 4 authorizes public expression by judges of their views on matters affecting the legal system and the administration of justice. It also authorizes judicial "assistance" in fund-raising by an organization concerned with improving the legal system, but proscribes individual solicitation.

A judge may solicit funds from judicial colleagues for support of a millage campaign for a "public safety" tax levy where a portion of the revenue will be used to operate the courts and to enhance the administration of justice. Such a shielded solicitation does not offend the general proscriptions against public fund-raising by judges. In accord, JTC A/O 61, judges may solicit funds from other judges. Any contribution to a campaign committee as contemplated here will become a matter of public record as required by law. It would, however, seem preferable that contributions from judges ought not be separated from or treated differently than those of other interested persons.

Judges may publicly endorse activities that concern the legal system and the administration of justice. Any such activities in the millage campaign described in the letter of request should be focused upon those aspects designed or presumed to enhance the judicial system and the administration of justice. The same standard should be followed whether the promotional or endorsement actively is undertaken "privately" or publicly.

Therefore, a judge may participate in a county wide millage campaign intended to raise tax revenues, a portion of which will be used to maintain and enhance court operations and may be expected to result in the improvement of the legal system and the administration of justice. Their activities should focus upon matters pertinent to the courts.

 
     

 

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