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Ethics Opinion

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This opinion is overruled by the White decision and is no longer valid. Refer to JI-131 issued February 2005.

JI-82

February 25, 1994

SYLLABUS

    A judicial candidate must not respond to a survey/questionnaire that elicits the candidate's opinions on matters pending or impending in any court.

    References: MCJC 2B, 3A(1) and (6), 7B(1); JI-27; C-219, C-222.

TEXT

A special interest group has forwarded a questionnaire to all local judicial candidates for response to questions such as:

    "Do you believe that a jury must include persons of the same nationality as the criminal defendant in order for there to be a fair trial?"

    "Do you believe that adopted children should be able to obtain their birth records in a medical emergency?"

    "Do you believe that life begins at conception?"

    "Do you believe school children should be allowed time at school for prayer?"

The group analyzes the responses and reports to its members its findings regarding the candidates alignment with issues supported by the special interest group. The findings are also shared with the local media. A judicial candidate asks whether it is ethical to respond to the questionnaire.

MCJC 3A(1) states:

    "(1) A judge should be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence in it. A judge should be unswayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism."

MCJC 3A(6) states:

    "(6) A judge should abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court, and should require a similar abstention on the part of court personnel subject to the judge's direction and control. This subsection does not prohibit a judge from making public statements in the course of official duties or from explaining for public information the procedures of the court or the judge's holdings or actions."

MCJC 7B(1) states:

    "(1) A candidate, including an incumbent judge, for a judicial office:

      "(a) should maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office, and should encourage family members to adhere to the same standards of political conduct that apply to the judge;

      "(b) should prohibit public employees subject to the judge's direction or control from doing for the judge what the judge is prohibited from doing under this Canon;

      "(c) should not make pledges or promises of conduct in office other than the faithful and impartial performance of the duties of the office; or misrepresent identity, qualifications, present position, or other fact."

A county bar association may not circulate a questionnaire requesting judicial candidates to agree or disagree on various legal issues already decided upon by the courts of last resort. C-222. See also JI-27; Vol 69 MBJ 820 (1990). In C-219, a candidate for judicial office was prohibited under MCJC 7B(1)(c) from employing the phrase "a strict sentencing philosophy" in campaign literature since this phrase, standing alone, created an impression of possible bias or partiality on the candidate's proposed sentencing practices.

The results of a survey as described would display or tend to display the judicial candidate's predisposition toward given legal views on matters pending or impending before all manner of trial and appellate courts. Such pronouncements would jeopardize the public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. MCJC 2B. While public discussion of legal/philosophical issues is permissible, a judge or candidate for judicial office should not offer such specific opinions as might require recusal in any given case. Such definitive judgments should be limited to actual cases that are in controversy.

Therefore, a judicial candidate must not respond to a survey/questionnaire that elicits the candidate's opinions on matters that have been or are likely to be subjects for adjudication.

 
     

 

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