SBM - State Bar of Michigan


August 20, 1980


    It is improper for a non-incumbent judicial candidate to campaign using the slogan "A Judge for a Change" because the arrangement of the words suggests incumbency, when in fact the candidate is not an incumbent.

    References: MCJC 7B(1)(a) and (c); Op 206.


A non-incumbent judicial candidate indicates that during the campaign the candidate will be stressing various ways in which the operation of the district court system should be changed to better serve the people, and in this regard inquires about the propriety of the proposed use of the campaign slogan "A Judge for a Change."

MCJC 7B states in relevant part:

    "B. Campaign Conduct:

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

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

        ". . .

        "(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 his identity, qualifications, present position, or other fact." Emphasis added.

In Op 206 this Committee set forth campaign guidelines for judicial candidates. Although the opinion was based on the former Canons of Professional Ethics (Judicial Canons 28 and 30), the opinion remains in force and effect under the new Code of Professional Responsibility except as specifically changed by subsequent opinions. Op 206 states, in part:

    "One of the most critical problems presented to the Committee is the pretense of incumbency. This results from a non-incumbent candidate using words, or the tricky and misleading placement or arrangement of words in the advertising that would suggest incumbency, when in fact the candidate is not an incumbent. In Michigan Opinion 74 (1941) and Michigan Opinion 189 (1961) we discussed at length and condemned the pretense of incumbency technique. This may take any form . . . . The point is and the practice condemned by the Committee is any action by a candidate that will tend to convey the impression that the candidate is an incumbent judge of the Court to which the candidate seeks election when, in fact, that is not the case . . . ."

The slogan "A Judge for a Change" is at best a misleading selection of words suggesting that the candidate is a judge when, in fact, the candidate is not an incumbent. The inquirer is not a "Judge for a Change" but rather a "candidate for Judge for a Change." The Committee concludes that the use of the slogan "A Judge for a Change" misrepresents the candidate's present position and is therefore not permissible.

Furthermore, the candidate is cautioned against advocating a willingness to make broad sweeping changes in the judicial system. MCJC 7B(1)(c) very specifically states that a candidate for judicial office should not make pledges or promises of conduct in office other than the faithful and impartial performance of the duties of the office. To say "a judge should be willing to change a jury system that is unnecessarily time consuming to the jurors . . ." without being more specific is an injudicious suggestion lacking substantive merit. The candidate may properly inform the electorate of the candidate's background and the fact that the candidate is a lawyer. The Committee stated in Op 206:

    "Toward this end, a judicial candidate may engage in a scholarly and judicial course of conduct within reasonable bounds, make public statements as to qualifications and engage in discussions in depth relating to the current issues of the day, to the end that the electorate may form an intelligent estimate of the candidate's ability and his fitness to serve the judicial office sought."

In conclusion, to make a broad sweeping statement, criticizing the present jury system, without being more specific, is not in good taste and is inconsistent with judicial ethics.