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Connecticut Committee on Judicial Ethics
Informal Opinion Summaries

2009-09 (February 18, 2009)
Event, attendance/appearance; Civic Activities; Fundraiser; Speaking
Canons 2, 4 & 5

Issue: May a Judicial Official be a guest speaker at a breakfast hosted and paid for by a legal aid organization when the specified purpose of the event is to thank those who have already financially supported the organization during its annual giving campaign?

Response: Based upon the facts presented, including that the participants are limited to lawyer donors, some of whom have appeared in the past and are likely to continue to appear before the judicial official and that, although no additional requests for contributions will be made at the event, the specified purpose of the event is to thank the donors who have already financially supported the organization during its annual giving campaign, a majority of the Committee’s members (three) determined that the breakfast served a fundraising purpose and therefore was a fundraising activity or event within the meaning of Canon 5(b)(2). The majority believed that the breakfast constituted the final event of the fundraising campaign and that the Judicial Official’s public participation was tantamount to endorsing the donors’ contributions and encouraging them to contribute in the future. The majority concluded that because the event is a fundraiser within the meaning of the Code, serving as a speaker at the event would violate Canon 5(b)(2). The majority determined that this inquiry should be governed by Canon 5(b), which specifically references legal aid organizations in its commentary to subsection (b)(1), rather than Canon 4. The majority was also concerned that serving as a speaker at this event could be perceived as a violation of Canon 2(b) although it may not be a technical violation of that provision. The majority concluded, however, that the Judicial Official could attend the breakfast but should not serve as a speaker.

The majority considered advisory opinions from other jurisdictions, including Alabama, Indiana, Maryland and New York, as well as by this Committee’s informal opinion JE 2008-06 which advised a judicial official not to participate in fundraising for a law school reunion, thank classmates who had made gifts to the reunion fund or encourage future support.

 Two members did not believe that, on the facts presented, the breakfast constituted a public fundraising activity or fund raising event in violation of Canon 5(b)(2) and instead determined that the controlling requirement is the general proviso of Canon 5(b) that “[a] judge may participate in civic and charitable activities that do not reflect adversely upon the judge’s impartiality or interfere with the performance of his or her judicial duties.” The minority considered advisory opinions from Indiana, Maryland and Michigan. The minority believed that, even if the breakfast qualifies as a “fund raising event,” Canon 5(b)(2) does not apply because the judicial official is not “an officer, director, trustee, or non-legal advisor” of the organization. The minority further concluded that the event was not a “fund raising event” within the meaning of Canon 5(b)(2), because no funds are to be collected or requested at the breakfast event, and the judicial official does not intend to speak on a matter related to fund raising. The minority also noted Canon 4(1) which encourages judges to “speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.”

 

Committee on Judicial Ethics

 


 

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