State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 04-06
Are there any circumstances under which a judicial candidate may send personal thank you notes for campaign contributions?
An incumbent judge has been challenged for re-election. The judge’s campaign received a financial contribution from another judge who lives on the opposite side of the state. The campaigning judge and the contributing judge have known each other for many years, and both have worked together on various judicial committees and their respective state judicial association. Both are superior court judges. Neither has any appellate capacity over the other. There is no possibility that the contributing judge would ever appear in the court of the campaigning judge.
An incumbent judge has been challenged for re-election. The campaign committee received a financial contribution from the judge’s grandmother. The grandmother lives in another state, is elderly and in poor health. There is no possibility that the judge would ever hear any case involving the grandmother in any way.
Generally, a judge or candidate for judicial office may not personally send thank you letters for campaign contributions made to the judge or candidate for judicial office. That function should be performed by the campaign. (See Opinion 90-9 and CJC Canon 7(B)(2)) There are a few very narrow exceptions to this prohibition. A candidate for judicial office may personally thank a close family member such as a sibling, parent, grandparent, spouse or other relative or person with whom the candidate maintains a close familial relationship. In most cases, unless there is a remittal of disqualification, CJC Canon 3(D)(1)(d)(i) prevents a judicial officer from hearing any matter involving a close family member or person with whom the candidate maintains a close familial relationship. Even though the judicial officer may write a personal thank you letter to a close relative or person with whom the judge maintains a close familial relationship, those thank you notes should be written either on plain paper or on the judge’s personal stationery and not on campaign committee letterhead and in no circumstances on official letterhead.
A judicial candidate, who is a sitting judge, may also write a personal thank you note to another judge who is on the same trial court bench as the judge because the campaigning judge will in all probability not preside over any matter involving the contributing judge and therefore the public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary will not be compromised. If there were an occasion when the campaigning judge did preside over a matter involving the contributing judge, the campaigning judge should disclose the contribution on the record and offer to withdraw.
Also See Opinion 90-9.
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