State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 00-11
May a court or its probation department hire a facilitator for a domestic violence panel? May the probation department run the program?
A court is contemplating creating a domestic violence panel. The panel will cover the effects of domestic violence of all parties involved. The panel will consist of volunteer speakers including a victim, a former defendant, treatment provider, law enforcement and a judge. The facilitator will organize the volunteer speakers, collect the money, run the session and report back to the court as to who attended the panel. A committee consisting of the prosecutor, law enforcement and the court will have input as to the areas covered but no one from the defense bar will be included.
CJC Canon 2(A) provides in part that judicial officers should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. Canon 3(B)(2) provides in part that judicial officers should require their staff and court officials subject to their direction and control to observe the standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to them. Finally, Canon 4(A) provides that judicial officers may participate in activities concerning the law, the legal system and the administration of justice if in doing so they do not cast doubt on their capacity to decide impartially any issue that may come before them.
A court may not hire a facilitator for a domestic violence program because in doing so the court would cast doubt on its capacity to decide impartially domestic violence cases that come before them. It should not direct its probation department to perform tasks that would if done by the court itself cast doubt on its capacity to decide cases that come before the court and therefore, the probation department may not run the event.
This domestic violence panel is distinguishable from participation in educational programs. It is more analogous to victim impact panels which are used for treatment purposes on which judicial officers do not routinely participate and which are not put on by courts. It is also problematic for a court or a court employee to be involved in collecting money from persons attending these panels.
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