SBM - State Bar of Michigan


October 6, 1993


    A judge may not participate in fund raising for a political party and its candidates by calling bingo numbers, selling bingo cards, and handling money at the event.

    References: MCJC 1, 2C, 5B, 7A and B; J-1; JI-17, JI-22, JI-33, JI-65; In the Matter of Hotchkiss, 415 Mich 1101 (1982).


A judge asks whether it is ethical for a judge to participate in fund raising for a political party and its candidates by calling bingo numbers, selling bingo cards, and handling money at the event.

MCJC 7 directly addresses a judge's political activities. A judge may attend political gatherings, speak to such gatherings on the judge's own behalf or on behalf of other judicial candidates, and may personally contribute to the political party. MCJC 7B. A judge may not make speeches on behalf of a political party or nonjudicial candidate, and may not publicly endorse a candidate for nonjudicial office. MCJC 7A.

It is well-established that a judge may not personally and directly solicit funds for a civic/charitable purpose [J-1, JI-33], or for the judge's campaign for judicial office [JI-17], In the Matter of Hotchkiss, 415 Mich 1101 (1982)]. The rationale for such prohibition is:

    "to avoid the misuse of judicial office. The rule addresses the dual fears that potential donors either may be intimidated into making contributions when solicited by a judge, or that they may expect future favors in return for their largesse." Judicial Conduct and Ethics, Shaman, Lubet and Alfini, Michie Company, 1990, p 262.

While MCJC 5B provides wide latitude for public service by judges, it inferentially restricts such discretion by warning against participation in charitable organizations that adversely reflect upon the impartiality or that interfere with the performance of the judge's judicial duties. Further, MCJC 2C prohibits use of the prestige of judicial office for the private business interests of others.

In JI-22, a judge asked whether it is proper to serve on the board of directors of a charitable fundraising foundation, to be established as a separate entity with tax-exempt status by the Democratic Party of a county in honor of a deceased political party leader. In determining that such participation was improper, the Committee reasoned under MCJC 1, 2A and 2C that such association gave the appearance of partiality toward the brand or style of politics engaged in by the deceased political leader, and that since the inquiring judge held a nonpartisan office, it would undermine the intent of Michigan law to allow the judge to serve on a party-connected board.

In JI-33 the Committee opined that an organization of judges may solicit money only through a nonjudge officer. Only a nonjudge would be able to handle the collection, deposit, and allocation of the funds received.

In JI-65 we addressed whether a judge could serve on a legislative affairs and political action committee whose mission was to support pro-business interests by promotion in the media, before governmental bodies, and by

supporting the election of business oriented candidates to partisan or nonpartisan offices. As stated in that opinion:

    "In regard to the issue of impartiality, the judge must be neutral, and therefore, should refrain from participating in furthering or opposing the interests of business. MCJC 1, 2C. By serving as a member of a committee which has taken a stance in favor of or in opposition to a particular sector of the community, the judge is stripped of impartiality and would face recusal on each occasion that the policy or law affecting that sector was the subject matter being contested in a legal proceeding or when a member of that sector appeared before the judge in question. It is clear that promoting the interests of the business sector is distinct and apart from the general 'improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice' as it pertains to the courts."

In this inquiry, the judge would be selling bingo cards and taking money from attendees. These activities are the direct and personal "solicitation of funds" by the judge, and prohibited.