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.
February 16, 1994
A judge may give a speech concerning nonlegal subjects at a private conference sponsored by a company.
A judge may accept an honorarium for speaking in the program if other participants would receive a comparable honorarium, and if the value exceeds $100, the judge reports it to the State Court Administrator.
References: MCJC, 5A, 5C(4), 6C.
A district court judge whose spouse is a public official has been asked to attend and be one of several speakers at a private conference sponsored by a corporation to take place at an out-of-state location. The judge was selected because the focus of the conference is key decision-makers of the company's customers. Neither the sponsoring company nor the participants have previously had, nor are they likely to have matters coming before the judge's court. The judge will speak to a group of persons whose spouses are similarly key decision-makers for their respective companies. The speeches will not concern law or the administration of justice. Speakers are offered an honorarium.
The judge asks whether participation is permitted and whether an honorarium may be accepted.
MCJC 5A states:
"A judge may write, lecture, teach, speak, and consult on nonlegal subjects, appear before public nonlegal bodies, and engage in the arts, sports, and other social and recreational activities, if such avocational activities do not detract from the dignity of the office or interfere with the performance of judicial duties."
This provision specifically authorizes a judge to speak on nonlegal topics before nonlegal bodies. Speaking to spouses of key decision-makers does not detract from the dignity of the judicial office, and, presuming any time away from the court is authorized by the chief judge, will not interfere with the performance of judicial duties. Since the sponsoring company and the attendees have not in the past had, nor are likely in the future to have matters coming before the district court, the impartiality of the judge when performing judicial duties would not be affected by participation in the program.
MCJC 5C(4) states:
"Neither a judge nor a family member residing in the judge's household should accept a gift, bequest, favor, or loan from anyone except as follows:
"(a) A judge may accept a gift or gifts not to exceed a total value of $100, incident to a public testimonial; books supplied by publishers on a complimentary basis for official use; or an invitation to the judge and spouse to attend a bar-related function or activity devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.
"(b) A judge or a family member residing in the judge's household may accept ordinary social hospitality; a gift, bequest, favor, or loan from a relative; a wedding or engagement gift; a loan from a lending institution in its regular course of business on the same terms generally available to persons who are not judges; or a scholarship or fellowship awarded on the same terms applied to other applicants.
"(c) A judge or a family member residing in the judge's household may accept any other gift, bequest, favor, or loan only if the donor is not a party or other person whose interests have come or are likely to come before the judge, and, if its value exceeds $100, the judge reports it in the same manner as compensation is reported in Canon 6C."
Thus the judge may accept an honorarium for participating in the program if other participants would receive a comparable honorarium, and if the value exceeds $100, the judge reports it to the State Court Administrator pursuant to MCJC 6C.