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.
March 20, 1992
If the purpose of the event is not fund-raising, a group of judges may hold a testimonial dinner in honor of a nonjudge, invite lawyers and judges to the event, and assess each attendee a pro rata share of the actual costs of the event.
If the purpose of the event is fund-raising, a group of judges holding a testimonial dinner may solicit funds from attendees only if a nonjudge handles the solicitation and the funds, and only if the proceeds are allocated to a bona fide educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization.
References: MCJC 5B, 6; JI-9, JI-33.
A group of judges wishes to hold a testimonial dinner honoring a nonjudge, and asks:
- May judge and lawyer attendees to the event be asked to contribute to the cost of the dinner?
- If so, do ethics rules require the establishment of a separate account for the funds, or may the solicited funds be collected by the organizing judge?
- If the judge may collect the funds directly, must the funds be reported pursuant to MCJC 6.
There is no ethics rule which prohibits judges from holding a testimonial dinner. A judge may also be an honoree at a testimonial dinner, MCJC 5C(4)(a). Where the event is a charitable fund-raising event, however, a judge honoree may attend the event only if the proceeds of the dinner are allocated to a charitable or civic purpose, JI-9.
We have no indication that the testimonial dinner in this inquiry is intended to be "fund-raising"; rather, it appears that any contribution of funds would be simply to cover the costs of the event. It is commonplace for groups to hold meetings in public facilities which rent out private rooms and offer standard menus for various set rates, depending on attendance. Some facilities require an advance deposit or a minimum attendance guarantee. Advising attendees of their pro rata share for attendance at the event is not, in our view, prohibited "solicitation of funds."
Likewise, if one event organizer has advanced a deposit, it is not improper for the individual to be reimbursed from payments from attendees subsequently received. There is no need to create elaborate bookkeeping or separate accounts. Any reasonable method of determining each attendee's share and reimbursing the organizer for any advance payments is acceptable.
Finally, since we are assuming that the nature of the event is not fund-raising, there are no "proceeds" or outside income to report under MCJC 6.
If the event were intended to be fund-raising, the nature of the group holding the event and whether the funds are raised for MCJC 5B purposes would be significant. Pursuant to MCJC 5B(2), judges may not solicit funds for educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organizations. But see JI-33, which concluded that an organization of judges may solicit through a nonjudge officer. Under those circumstances only a nonjudge would be able to handle the collection, deposit, and allocation of the funds received. Since the funds would be handled by a nonjudge, there would be no reporting required under MCJC 6.