2013-25 (June 6, 2013)
Bar Association Functions; Event, attendance/appearance;
Appearance of Impropriety; Gifts;
Rules 1.2, 3.1, 3.7, 3.13 & 3.15
May a Judicial Official accept an invitation from the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association (“CTLA”) to attend a dinner at its annual meeting as a guest of the CTLA?
The inquiring Judicial Official advised that while membership is open to all lawyers, the CTLA is perceived as a plaintiffs’ bar. The CTLA website describes the organization as follows:
Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association is a non-profit professional association dedicated to creating and maintaining a more just society by preserving individual rights within the justice system.
The annual meeting is an all-day program with numerous speakers. During the dinner, there is a speaker as well as a presentation of a Civil Justice Award, CTLA Judicial Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award. The cost of the dinner is $75 for members, their guests and law students and $95 for all others. If a reservation is placed after May 29, the entrance fee increases by $30 for both categories.
We are a fellowship of over 1,300 of Connecticut's most accomplished and active lawyers who are interested in protecting plaintiffs' rights and becoming better trial lawyers. CTLA provides its members with continuing education, publications, trial skills workshops and networking opportunities that keep them current on the law.
Response: Rule 1.2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that a judge “shall 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 3.1 states that a judge may engage in extrajudicial activities, except as prohibited by law; however, a judge shall not participate in activities that will interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties, lead to frequent disqualification or appear to a reasonable person to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity or impartiality.
Rule 3.7 concerns participation in educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization and activities. Subject to the requirements in Rule 3.1, a judge is permitted to participate in activities sponsored by “organizations or governmental entities concerned with the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice”. Subject to the requirements in Rule 3.1, subsection (a)(4) specifically authorizes judges “appearing or speaking at … 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”.
Rule 3.13 concerns the acceptance and reporting of gifts. Subsection (a) notes that a judge should not accept a gift or other thing of value “if acceptance is prohibited by law or would appear to a reasonable person to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity or impartiality.” Subsection (c)(2)(A) states that unless otherwise prohibited by law or subsection (a), a judge may accept an invitation to the judge and a guest “to attend without charge … an event associated with a bar related function or other activity relating to the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.”
Rule 3.15 sets forth the reporting requirement for gifts and other things of value permitted by Rule 3.13(c). Basically, provided the value of all such items received from a single source does not exceed $250 in a calendar year, there is no duty to report the item.
Based on the facts presented, including that membership in the CTLA is open to all and that the CTLA’s stated purpose is to create and maintain a more just society by preserving individual rights within the justice system, the Committee unanimously determined that the Judicial Official may accept an invitation from the CTLA to attend the dinner at its annual meeting as its guest. However, the nature and extent of the Judicial Official’s participation at the CTLA’s dinner are subject to the following ethical limitations:
- The Judicial Official does not discuss any pending or impending cases in any court;
- The Judicial Official does not personally believe that attendance as a guest of the CTLA would create an appearance of impropriety; and
- If required to do so pursuant to Rule 3.15, the Judicial Official reports the gift.