2013-21 (Emergency Staff Opinion issued May 8, 2013)
Awards & Honors; Advancing Private Interests;
Event, attendance/appearance; Name, Use of
Rules 1.2, 1.3, 3.1 & 3.7
May a Judicial Official receive an award and be recognized by a community chamber of commerce at an annual awards program recognizing distinguished leaders?
Facts: A Judicial Official has inquired about the propriety of accepting an award from a non-profit community chamber of commerce at the chamber’s annual program recognizing distinguished leaders in the categories of business leaders, community leaders and quality of life. The Judicial Official was nominated for the community leadership award for service prior to appointment to the bench. The program is not a fundraiser. In the past, a bank has provided some funding to lower the cost of the program and some vendors have provided a discount; however, there is no program book or other fundraising done in connection with the program. The fee charged is designed to cover costs. At this point, there is no commitment by the bank or anyone else to be a sponsor for this year.
The Chamber’s goal is advance the general welfare of the region so that the residents and businesses prosper. The Chamber uses various means to promote the region, including the economic, civic, commercial, cultural and educational interests of the region. The Chamber has a lobbyist and seeks to advance the interests of the region with the region’s legislative delegation.
Publicity for the event consists of press releases and invitations to chamber members and invitees identified by the award recipients. The publicity will identify the award recipients.
Response: The inquiry was circulated to the Committee members and input solicited. Rule 1.2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct states that a judge “should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety. The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge violated this Code or engaged in other conduct that reflects adversely on the judge’s honesty, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge.”
Rule 1.3 of the Code states that a judicial official shall not use or attempt to use the prestige of judicial office to advance the personal or economic interests of the judge or others or allow others to do so.
Rule 3.1 of the Code states that a judge may engage in extrajudicial activities except as prohibited by law; subject to various restrictions including that the judge not participate in activities that (1) interfere with the performance of judicial duties, (2) lead to frequent disqualification, (3) appear to a reasonable person to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity or impartiality, or (4) appear to a reasonable person to be coercive.
Rule 3.7 states that subject to Rule 3.1, a judge may participate in activities sponsored by or on behalf of educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organizations not conducted for profit, including but not limited to the following activities: “(4) appearing or speaking at, receiving an award or other recognition at, being featured on the program of, and permitting his or her title to be used in connection with an event of such an organization or entity, but if the event serves a fund-raising purpose, the judge may participate only if the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.”
Based upon the facts presented, the Judicial Official was advised that he/she may receive the award subject to the following condition: the Judicial Official should retain authority to review the press release and invitation to make sure that there is no attempt to use the prestige of judicial official to advance the interests of the chamber in violation of Rule 1.3.