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 27, 1990
A judge may serve as a member of a census count committee formed to promote census awareness in the judge's community, if (a) the activities do not detract from the dignity of the judicial office, (b) the activities do not interfere with the performance of judicial duties, (c) the activities do not reflect adversely on the judge's impartiality, and (d) participation in the activities does not constitute an appearance of impropriety.
A judge may serve as director of a nonprofit corporation formed by a university to manage various entrepreneurial activities for the university, if (a) the nonprofit corporation is a bona fide educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization, (b) the nonprofit corporation will not be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge, and (c) the nonprofit corporation will not be regularly engaged in adversary proceedings in any court.
References: MCJC 2A, 2B, 2C, 5B; J-1; CI-641.
A sitting judge has been asked to serve on a committee to be called a census count committee, whose purpose would be to promote census awareness activities by using the judge's name as a member of a "Blue Ribbon Complete Count Committee." The judge would serve with community elected officials and community leaders in business, sports and the ministry. This would not be a working committee and primarily the judge would sit as the ceremonial head of the county "census awareness program," which will emphasize the importance of the "complete count" in the 1990 census.
The judge also asks whether the judge may serve on the board of directors of a nonprofit corporation, which corporation has been formed by a public university of the state. The corporation would be non-stock, organized exclusively for charitable, religious, educational and scientific purposes, and would operate so as to qualify as a charitable organization under IRC Sec 501(c)(3). In the event of dissolution of the corporation, any remaining assets would be distributed to the university.
In neither of the activities would the judge receive remuneration.
MCJC 2A, B and C, state:
- Public confidence in the judiciary is eroded by irresponsible or improper conduct by judges. A judge must avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety. He must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny. He must therefore accept restrictions on his conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly.
- A judge should respect and observe the law and should conduct himself at all times in a manner that promoted public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
- A judge should not allow his family, social or other relationships to influence his judicial conduct or judgment. He should not use the prestige of his office to advance the business interests of himself or others. He should not appear as a witness in a court proceedings unless subpoenaed.
MCJC 5B states:
"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."
It is clear that the judge may sit on the board of the "blue ribbon committee" selected to promote an accurate census count. The activities do not detract from the dignity of the judicial office, and in fact, may add to the dignity and proper use of the status of the judge. There is nothing to indicate that the limited activities would in any way interfere with the performance of judicial duties. There is nothing to indicate that the activities may in any way reflect adversely upon the judge's impartiality, nor is there any appearance of impropriety in a judge serving, without compensation, on a committee which promotes and encourages all citizens to participate in their government by attempting to assure that all of the citizens are appropriately counted in the decennial census. It is unlikely, if not impossible, for such a "blue ribbon committee" to be involved in proceedings before a state court or federal court judge. To serve on the committee would not be a violation of MCJC 2 or MCJC 5.
The judge may also participate on the board of directors of the nonprofit corporation formed by the public university. Service on the board cannot be considered as creating an appearance of impropriety as long as the judge refrains from any personal solicitation of funds and does not allow others to use the prestige of the judge's office to coerce financial contributions. In serving on the board, the judge may give advice of a nonlegal nature.
A judge may participate in the financial appeals on behalf of educational, religious, fraternal, or civic-charitable organizations and their fund-raising committees, as long as the judge does not individually solicit money, CI-641.
MCJC 5B permits a judge to serve as director or trustee of charitable or civic organization. "It follows that [MCJC 5B] permits a judge to be identified by name and judicial office on a letterhead, in circulated literature or in any other communications disseminated by the organization of which the judge is a member. There is no prohibition against the organization soliciting fund-raising letters on such letterhead, providing the judge is not the sole signator of the letter," J-1. A judge may participate and be listed in promotional materials as a participant in educational, religious, fraternal, or civic/charitable activities, as long as the participation does not involve the judge individually soliciting funds.
Although it would appear unlikely that the nonprofit corporation formed by the state university would become engaged in legal proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge, or that the organization "will be regularly engaged in adversary proceedings in any court," if such should occur, the judge should resign from the board of the corporation.
Therefore, a judge may serve as a member of the census awareness committee and on the board of the nonprofit corporation of the public university.