SBM - State Bar of Michigan


July 3, 1981


    Subject to Canon 5B of the Code of Judicial Conduct, a judge may not chair a fund-raising committee of a religious organization, but may be a member of such committee as long as the judge does not personally solicit funds, may join as a sponsor with ten or more persons in a general appeal for a charitable or philanthropic organization, may personally solicit charitable contributions from other judges and from his or her immediate family, and may list his or her name and title in a brief and dignified fashion among other general sponsors in literature disseminated for charitable purposes. However, a judge may not directly solicit contributions from persons (other than those listed above), may not lend the prestige of the judge's office for such purpose and the chairing of a committee for fund-raising constitutes the lending of the prestige of the judge's office for such fund-raising and may not actively participate in a non-profit auction generating contributions for public television.

    References: MCJC 5B; CI-320, CI-502; ABA Informal Op 1070.


A judge asks the following questions about various charitable activities:

  1. May I "chair a fund-raising committee of my temple, as long as I do not solicit individual donations?" "May my name appear on literature indicating that I chair such a committee?"
  2. May I "be listed along with two other individuals as a sponsor for a fund-raising party for . . . a charitable organization? What if my name is one of one hundred sponsors? Where is the line drawn?"
  3. "[M]ay I solicit [funds from] other judges . . . [when] each year I run in the Muscular Dystrophy . . . run. Are my colleagues on the 46th District bench permitted to . . . pledge? Is this proper? If it is, who else may pledge for the miles I may run? May I permit my name to be used in the attendant publicity surrounding such an activity once completed?
  4. To what extent may I participate in the Channel 56 Television Auction?

As your letter recognizes, Canon 5B of the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct generally addresses the issues you raise. Canon 5B states:

    "B. Civic and Charitable Activities: A judge may participate in civic and charitable activities that do not reflect adversely upon his impartiality or interfere with the performance of his judicial duties. A judge may serve as an officer, director, trustee, or non-legal advisor of a bona fide educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization, subject to the following limitations:

      "(1) A judge should not serve if it is likely that the organization will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before him or will be regularly engaged in adversary proceedings in any court.

      "(2) A judge should not individually solicit funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of his office for that purpose, but he may be listed as an officer, director, or trustee of such an organization. A judge may, however, join a general appeal on behalf of an educational, religious, charitable, or fraternal organization, or speak on behalf of such organization."

Research has disclosed no relevant ethics opinions or court decisions interpreting Canon 5B; however, several authorities have commented upon its predecessor, Canon 25 of ABA the Canons of Judicial Ethics, the Michigan version of which stated in relevant part:

    "A judge should avoid giving ground for any reasonable suspicion that he is utilizing the power or prestige of his office to persuade or coerce others to patronize or contribute . . . to charitable enterprises. He should, therefore, not . . . solicit for charities . . . .

    "Nothing herein contained shall prevent a judge from occupying a position on any charity board or joining a general appeal on behalf of such charity or speaking on behalf of such charity, provided, however, he shall not do any personal soliciting."

It is important to note that former Michigan Canon 25, unlike its counterpart, former ABA Canon 25, added the second paragraph which permitted participation on a charity board or in a general charitable appeal so long as the judge was not involved in personal solicitation.

Thus, American Bar Association ethics opinions interpreting former ABA Canon 25, although instructive, does not adequately answer your questions. See, Goodell, "Judicial Participation in Charitable Activities," Record of N.Y.C.B.A. 648 (1970); ABA Informal Opinion 603 (November 2, 1962) (a judge may not personally solicit for philanthropic, civic, and ecclesiastical organizations); ABA Informal Opinion 1105 (February 24, 1969) (a judge may not be a guest of honor at a fund-raising testimonial dinner); ABA Informal Opinion 866 (February 24, 1966) (a judge may not serve as an honorary member of a lawyers' committee to build a memorial to a former jurist). Compare, ABA Informal Opinion 1070 (July 21, 1969) (a judge may serve as chairman of a church board which canvasses for church funds as long as he does not personally solicit or permit his name to be used in any manner in such solicitations).

A reading of the relevant past and present Canons and the cited decisions suggests that a judge must refrain from personal charitable solicitations and must not permit the use of the prestige of his office for that purpose.

However, the acceptance of judicial duties does not necessarily entail the adoption of a cloistered lifestyle. For example, a judge may participate in holding a social golf outing with former business associates, bar members and acquaintances so long as he neither receives gifts nor engages in fund-raising. Similarly, under certain circumstances a judge may participate in passive business activity that does not detract from the duties of his office. CI-502.

Moreover, as Canon 5B makes clear, a judge may serve as an officer in a religious or charitable appeal or speak on behalf of such an organization so long as no personal solicitation occurs.

Within these guidelines and subject to Canon 5B, the Committee offers the following answers to your questions:

  1. You may not chair a fund-raising committee of religious organization because it constitutes, in our opinion, a lending of the prestige of your office to such fund-raising; you may be a member of such committee as long as you do not personally solicit funds. See ABA Informal Opinion 1070, supra. In addition, we believe it proper to permit a brief and dignified listing of your name on literature disseminated for this purpose (for example, a listing on the margin naming all committee members) but you may not sign such literature or take an active role in solicitations.
  2. You may be listed in a brief and dignified manner along with ten or more persons as sponsors in a general appeal in connection with a fund-raising party for a charitable organization, but again yours should be distinctly passive role and should not involve any personal solicitations.
  3. You may solicit contributions for the Muscular Dystrophy Run from your colleagues on the bench, both in your district court and other courts in this state, and from you immediate family, since this Committee believes that such conduct implicitly falls outside of the prohibitions of Canon 5B. However, no personal solicitations of other individuals may take place. In addition, so long as mention of your name in the attendant publicity takes place in a brief and dignified fashion, we believe that a publication of this sort is permitted under Canon 5B as a participation in "a general appeal on behalf of [a] . . . charitable . . . organization."
  4. With regard to the Channel 56 auction, while this Committee appreciates the laudable goals of public television, we do not believe it appropriate for you to participate in direct public solicitations at the auction since inevitably this would result in the appearance that you are lending the prestige of your office for a charitable purpose. However, as noted above, a brief and dignified listing of your name (among others) as a sponsor of the Channel 56 auction is ethically permitted.