State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 05-02
May a judicial officer permit an employee, who is under the judicial officer’s direction and control, to organize and preside over a conference at which vendors would be invited to demonstrate court related services and products?
As part of the conference, may the judicial officer permit the court employee as the president of the court management association to:
(a) Organize a vendor fair?
(b) Charge vendors for booth space to offset the cost of the room rental for the vendor fair?
(c) Accept snack or lunch at breaks provided by the vendors during the open hours of the vendor fair?
(d) Raffle off items to attendees who have visited a vendor booth and entered a drawing?
(e) Give away nominally valued items to attendees who have visited the vendor’s booth?
The judge’s court administrator is the president of a trial court management association. The administrator is an employee under the direction and control of the presiding judge as are all other members of the association.
The trial court administrators’ association would like to offer a vendor fair during their association-sponsored conferences. The conference, at which there will be the first vendor fair, will be sponsored by the association with grant support from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.
It would be beneficial to court managers to be aware of court related products and services. Managers would be exposed to new services and products that in many cases they would not otherwise experience. A single gathering of vendors would be time-and-cost effective for the courts represented at the conference.
CJC Canon 2(B) provides in part that judges should not allow relationships to influence their judicial conduct or judgment, lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the interests of others or permit others to convey the impression they are in a special position to influence the judge. Canon 3(B)(2) provides that court staff subject to the judge’s direction and control should observe the standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to judges as they carry out administrative responsibilities. CJC Canon 5(C) addresses the circumstances under which a judge may accept a gift, a complimentary invitation to a law-related event or ordinary social hospitality.
Based on the foregoing, a judicial officer may permit the court manager to preside over a conference at which vendors will be invited to demonstrate court related services and products provided all vendors, whether or not they are a member of the court managers’ association, are invited to set up booths at the conference. The court managers’ association may charge vendors only for the actual costs associated with putting on the vendor fair such as additional room rental charges and those costs should be equitably divided among the court vendors participating in the vendor fair. The court managers may accept snacks or lunch if the food is made available to all of the attendees and is of nominal value. Vendors may raffle off items to attendees who have visited a vendor booth and entered a drawing provided that the items raffled are of nominal value or if a court related product on the condition that it will be used by the court in its operation. Court managers may accept nominally valued items which they receive from a vendor for visiting the vendor’s booth. The court manager is not required to bring these items to the court for official use but may use them personally. Even though all of this conduct is permitted by the Code of Judicial Conduct the judge must advise the court manager that the court employee must continue to monitor the participation of vendors at court management conferences to ensure the participation is permitted by the Code of Judicial Conduct and does not call either the court’s or its employees’ impartiality into question.
These questions have been answered in the affirmative with respect to the application of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The judicial officer should consult local ordinances to determine whether matters such as receipt of gifts or reporting requirements are imposed by local ordinance and require the court employee to follow those requirements.
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