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Ethics Opinion

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April 27, 1992


    A judge may endorse a candidate to the board of directors of a local bar association.

    References: MCJC 7A; JI-19.


A lawyer running for election to the board of directors of a local bar association asks whether the lawyer may seek an endorsement of the candidacy from local judges, and publish the endorsement in campaign materials.

MCJC 7 addresses a judge's political activities; MCJC 7A states:

    "(1) A judge or a candidate for judicial office should not:

      "(a) hold any office in a political party;

      "(b) make speeches on behalf of a political party or non-judicial candidate or publicly endorse a candidate for non-judicial office.

    "(2) A judge or candidate for judicial office may:

      "(a)attend political gatherings;

      "(b)speak to such gatherings on his own behalf or on behalf of other judicial candidates;

      "(c)contribute to a political party.

    "(3) A judge should resign his office before he becomes a candidate either in a party primary or in a general election for non-judicial office." Emphasis added.

MCJC 7A(1)(b) is premised on the requirement that a judge should not involve the prestige of the judicial office in contested political election campaigns and clearly indicates that a judge may not publicly endorse a candidate for non-judicial office. See MCJC 2C. MCJC 7A(2)(b) appears to limit a judge's ability to speak at political gatherings on behalf of the judge and other judicial candidates.

JI-19 addresses the issue of what elections are encompassed within MCJC 7. The conclusion was that "the histories of the ABA Model Code and the Michigan Code show that MCJC 7A (3) contemplates only political elections." One issue in JI-19 was whether a school board election was within the rule as it was a non-judicial office but there was no party primary or general election; and the school board election is not held at the same time as political elections. The conclusion was that a school board election was not the type of political election contemplated within the rule requiring a judge (referee) to resign from office before becoming a candidate for the school board.

The election for the board of directors of a local bar association is also a non-judicial office without party primary or general election and the election is not at the same time as political elections and thus also not contemplated within the prohibitions of MCJC 7A. "Non-judicial office" must be interpreted uniformly with the parameters of the Canons. Under this interpretation, judges themselves may run for bar association office without resigning their judicial offices.

A judge's assumption of judicial office does not require the judge to sever all relationships with other lawyers. A judge is permitted to accept campaign contributions from lawyers, to serve on boards and commissions with lawyers, and may continue social relationships with lawyers. A judge's participation in bar association activities is similarly acceptable. The question of disqualification would be addressed on a case-by-case basis as those situations arise.



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