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.
August 15, 1997
A judge may not attend a testimonial dinner sponsored by a political party where the price of admission exceeds the reasonable cost of attendance.
It is unethical for a judge to use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office to raise money for a political party.
References: MCJC 5B (2), 7A (1), 7B (2)(a), 7C(1); JI-3, JI-87.
A judge has inquired whether it would be ethical for the judge to attend a fund raising dinner sponsored by a local political party in honor of the county's sitting Circuit, District, and Probate judges. Justices of the Michigan Supreme Court and the judges of the Michigan Court of Appeals will also be honored. All judges would be guests of the political party. None of the judges are asked to solicit funds or attendance to the event. The political party intends to charge attendees more than the cost of the dinner and retain any profit from ticket sales.
While it is clear that judges may attend political gatherings and make individual contributions to political parties, the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct does not permit judges to personally solicit money for any purpose—not even for the judge's own election campaign. MCJC 5B, 7A(1) and 7B(2)(a).
Fund raising for other than judicial campaign purposes is expressly prohibited by MCJC 7C(1), which states in part:
"No judge shall accept a testimonial occasion on the judge's behalf where the tickets are priced to cover more than the reasonable costs thereof, which may include only a nominal gift."
Therefore, when considering an invitation to participate in any extra judicial activity, judges must determine whether the event involves the judge's personal solicitation of funds. If so, the judge cannot participate. JI-3 and JI-87. Even when the event does not require a judge to actively solicit moneys, it is improper for a judge to use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund raising purposes. MCJC 5B(2).
Since the proposed fundraiser seeks to use the prestige of judicial office to raise money for the local political party, it is unethical for the judge to attend the event. Moreover, MCJC 7C prohibits all judges from accepting a testimonial occasion where the cost of tickets sold to attendees are priced to cover more than the reasonable costs of the event. The fact that the judges will not share in the profits is immaterial to this decision.