SBM - State Bar of Michigan


May 25, 1990


Displaying artwork or other products in a courthouse or courtroom at no charge does not violate judicial ethics, and a judge is not disqualified from presiding over a case involving the donor-lender-benefactor.

References: MCJC 2A, 5C(4).


A merchant in a community conducts a contest from time to time, soliciting the participation of local students and local youth for innovation of design and the exhibition of their particular talent. The merchant has requested permission to display the works of the participants in the court building. Neither the merchant nor the artist has cases pending in the court at the time of the donation. There is a liability agreement to cover any damage which the artwork may suffer while on display, but otherwise the display is provided without charge.

A judge asks whether certain carpets, sculptures, wall hangings, etc., provided to the court building without charge through these expositions would cause a disqualification to the judge on any matters which the donor-lender-benefactor has pending in that particular court, especially if the display appears in that courtroom.

MCJC 2A prohibits a judge from appearances of impropriety or other conduct which would cast doubt on the judge's impartiality. Most, if not all, judges accept contributions from lawyers for their election campaigns. Many courts provide a lawyer's lounge, the furnishings for which have been supplied by the local bar association or local attorneys, without any suggestion that a judge be disqualified. The judge's impartiality would not be any more affected by permitting artistic work to be displayed about the courthouse and the courtrooms. MCJC 5C (4) prohibits the judge from personally receiving gifts under various circumstances. However, in this case the donation is to the local government entity, and not to the judge.

The liability agreement between the donor and the governmental agency which controls the courthouse does not in any way involve the judge financially or personally in any decision-making process regarding the arrangement or the display itself, such as would render the judge unable to adjudicate a matter in which the donor-lender-benefactor is a party.