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 15, 1995
A judge may teach a law course as long as the obligations of teaching do not interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties. A judge may not serve as a contributing editor of a journal of political opinion.
References: MCJC 1, 2B, 2C, 3A(1) and (6), 4A, 5C(1) and (2); JI-76, JI-80; C-217; JTC A/O 97.
A judge asks whether the judge may teach a law course one evening a week at a private college or university, and serve as a contributing editor of a journal of political opinion. Editorial duties include occasionally reviewing articles submitted for publication, occasionally authoring articles for publication, and occasionally writing editorials for publication.
The role of a judge teaching a course on the law one evening a week is one of proper utilization of the judge's skill and knowledge for the advancement of the public's knowledge of the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice. MCJC 4A states:
"A judge may speak, write, lecture, teach, and participate in other activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice." Emphasis added.
Further, the Committee in C-217 opined the propriety of a judicial officer providing general information on the law to the public through contributions to newspapers, radio and television programs so long as the contributions did not interfere with the proper administration of justice. In accord, JI-80.
Whether the judge may be a contributing editor of a journal of political opinion raises significantly different concerns with regard to the proper administration of justice. There is no question about a judge's right to participate in extra-judicial activities; however, judges must recognize that those activities are the subject of constant public scrutiny and must be discontinued if they raise the appearance of bias. MCJC 1 and 2B note that the conduct and manner of a judge should promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. MCJC 2C prohibits the use of the prestige of the judicial office for the private interests of others. See JI-76, JTC A/O 97. MCJC 3A(1) advises a judge should be unswayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism. MCJC 3A(6) notes that a judge should abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court. A judge's identification with a partisan position may raise the question of whether the judge is able to render a fair and unbiased decision on an issue. See C-222, C-237, CI-646.
In addition, judges are advised to "refrain from financial and business dealings that tend to reflect adversely on the judge's impartiality or judicial office, interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties, exploit the judicial position, or involve the judge in frequent transactions with lawyers or persons likely to come before the court on which the judge serves." MCJC 5C(1).
MCJC 5C(2) prohibits a judge from holding a regular position with any business. Even if the judge is not compensated, the editorial responsibilities involve "advising" the journal regarding what it should publish and in what form. If the judge is responsible for editing the journal, the judge would probably be soliciting articles and contacting authors about editing changes; the prestige of the judge's judicial office would thus be brought into play for the private interests of the publication, contravening MCJC 2C. See also JI-76.
Therefore the judge should not perform editing duties for the school journal.