State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 01-04
May a full-time judicial officer serve as a volunteer member on the board of directors for a local nonprofit agency whose employees occasionally appear in front of that judge on behalf of their clients who are criminal defendants in the municipal court?
A judicial officer has been asked to serve on the board of directors for a local nonprofit agency that provides a variety of services and programs to individuals with mental health and chemical dependency problems. Board members establish policy for the agency and are expected to contribute in a number of other ways, including fund raising, participating in special events and representing the agency to the community.
The court does not directly refer defendants to the agency. The probation department does include the agency, along with other agencies on a list distributed to defendants, listing a variety of mental health and chemical dependency programs in the community.
Mental health and chemical dependency counselors employed by the agency occasionally appear in the judge’s court as fact witnesses on behalf of clients who are also criminal defendants. Those hearings typically concern allegations of noncompliance with court orders by the defendant. Part of the judge’s decision-making process on the noncompliance issues include weighing the credibility of the counselors and their testimony.
CJC Canon 5(B) provides in part that judges may participate in charitable activities that do not reflect adversely upon their impartiality or interfere with the performance of their judicial duties. Subsection (B)(2) provides in part that judges may not use the prestige of their office to solicit contributions for any charitable organization. Because employees of the agency occasionally appear before the judicial officer as fact witnesses, the judicial officer may not serve on the board of directors of the agency as that involvement on the agency’s board would reflect adversely the judicial officer’s impartiality.
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