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.
May 12, 1992
A bar association may solicit cash donations from lawyers to sponsor judge players in a softball event organized by the bar association.
References: MCJC 5A, 5B(2); J-1; JI-33.
A special interest bar association annually holds a softball challenge. In the past, lawyers have sponsored lawyer players and judges have sponsored judge players, which sponsorship involves cash donations which go to the benefit of the bar association, mention of the sponsor in the event program, and sometimes a T-shirt or other token of sponsorship. We are asked whether it would be a violation of ethics rules if lawyers were solicited by the bar association to sponsor particular judge players, with each lawyer's donation not to exceed $100.00.
A judge may "engage in the arts, sports, and other social and recreational activities, if such avocational activities do not detract from the dignity of [judicial] office or interfere with the performance of judicial duties," MCJC 5A. We do not see any reason why a judge's participation in the event would detract from the dignity of the office or interfere with judicial duties.
MCJC 5B prohibits a judge from individually soliciting funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization, and from permitting the use of the prestige of the judge's office for that purpose. JI-33 distinguished fund solicitation by a judge personally from solicitation by a nonlawyer employed by an organization of judges; solicitation by nonlawyers for charitable and educational purposes was not improper, even though the solicitation was done in the name of the organization of judges. Also, J-1 noted that judges may participate in walk-a-thons, where donations were calculated by the number of miles walked by the judge, as long as the judge did not sign up the contributors. Thus, there appears to be no ethical violation for the bar association to solicit cash donations from lawyers to sponsor the judge players.
Therefore, it is not unethical for a bar association to solicit cash donations from lawyers to sponsor judge players in a softball event organized by the bar association.