State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 00-13
Does the use of government equipment to access local telephone services for personal use violate the Code of Judicial Conduct or any state law?
Judicial officers are provided with a computer terminal and a telephone both of which are capable of accessing local telephone lines. The use of local telephone services involves no additional costs to the government other than the original costs associated with providing these services.
CJC Canon 2(A) provides that judicial officers should comply with the law and act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. RCW 42.52.160(1) provides in part that no state officer or employee may use any property under the officer’s or employee’s official control for the private benefit of the officer or employee. RCW 42.52.010(18) provides in part that “state officer” includes judges of the superior court, judges of the court of appeals and justices of the supreme court. RCW 42.52.160(3) provides that the appropriate ethics boards may adopt rules providing exceptions to the prohibition of the personal use of state resources if the use is of de minimis cost and value and does not result in the interference with the proper performance of public duties. The Commission on Judicial Conduct at WAC 292-11-020 defines “de minimis cost and value”, as referring to a cost or value of the actual use of public resources that is sufficiently small to be reasonably regarded as negligible or trifling. While WAC 292-11-020(2) refers only to the use of public resources for campaign purposes, it is helpful to consider this definition also in the context of the use of public resources for personal reasons.
RCW 42.52.160(3) and WAC 292-11-020(2) clearly contemplate that public officers and employees may make occasional use of a public resource if the use is of de minimis cost and value and does not result in the interference with the proper performance of public duties. Therefore, a state telephone or e-mail may be used on occasion to conduct personal or family business because there is a de minimis cost in placing a local telephone call or sending or receiving an e-mail via local telephone services if it does not interfere with the performance of judicial duties.
See also the rules of the Executive and Legislative Ethics Boards to see how those two bodies interpret RCW 42.52.160.
Judicial officers serving on courts of limited jurisdiction should consult local rules and ordinances to ascertain if there are restrictions imposed by local government on the use of public resources.
|Courts | Organizations | News | Opinions | Rules | Forms | Directory | Library|
|Back to Top | Privacy and Disclaimer Notices|