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.
June 25, 1996
A judge may take a position on a proposal to eliminate adult education in the state to the extent that the position addresses the impact of the proposal on the administration of justice.
References: MCJC 2A, 2C, 4A, 4B; JI-18, JI-46.
A judge inquires whether it is ethical to actively participate with organizations that advocate public policy changes and take positions on legislation and government policy which do not affect the legal community. The judge proposes to take a position on the governor's proposed legislation to eliminate adult education in the state of Michigan.
There are some limitation on a judge's opportunity to engage in the advocacy of matters outside of efforts to improve "the law, the legal system and the administration of justice" as provided in MCJC 4. MCJC 4 states in part:
"As a judicial officer and person specially learned in the law, a judge is in a unique position to contribute to the improvement of the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, including revision of substantive and procedural law and improvement of criminal and juvenile justice. To the extent that time permits, the judge is encouraged to do so, either independently or through a bar association, judicial conference, or other organization dedicated to the improvement of the law.
"A judge, subject to the proper performance of judicial duties, may engage in the following quasi-judicial activities:
"A. A judge may speak, write, lecture, teach, and participate in other activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.
"B. A judge may appear at a public hearing before an executive or legislative body or official on matters concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, and may otherwise consult with such executive or legislative body or official on such matters.
". . . ."
The matters of educational opportunities and educational resources are significant to the legal system and the administration of justice. Courts frequently impose educational requirements in correctional and rehabilitative sentencing. Similar programs are often required by jail and prison authorities. Adult education is often the educational vehicle employed by the court and others. In fact, the impact of education generally on the social and economic factors material to poverty and crime is a serious matter of interest to the justice system. The concerns and advice of the judiciary are to be welcome.
A judge's activities as a member of the census court committee have been deemed propitious so long as they did not detract from the dignity of judicial office, interfere with the performance of judicial duties and did not reflect adversely upon the courts impartiality or appearance of impartiality. JI-18.
A judge's participation in a county wide millage campaign intended to raise revenue to maintain and enhance court operations has been approved especially as the judge's activities focus upon matters pertinent to the courts. JI-46.
One must be aware, however, that the subject of education is often fraught with partisan political considerations, and a judge should therefore be especially mindful of the provisions of MCJC 2A and 2C which state:
"A. Public confidence in the judiciary is eroded by irresponsible or improper conduct by judges. A judge must avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety. A judge must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny. A judge must therefore accept restrictions on conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly."
"C. A judge should not allow family, social, or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment. A judge should not use the prestige of office to advance personal business interests or those of others. A judge should not appear as a witness in a court proceeding unless subpoenaed." Emphasis added.
In so far as a judge's public comments on adult education are limited to its impact on the administration of justice, they are not unethical.