State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 07-01
May a judicial officer accept and retain a ceremonial blanket received from the party of a drug court graduate and if not, what may be done with the blanket?
At a juvenile court graduation of a Native American participant the mother of the juvenile, who is also the chair of a local tribe, presented the judge, the drug court director employed by the county, the deputy prosecuting attorney who presides over the juvenile drug court and the public defender who is a member of the drug court team, each with a ceremonial blanket. The parent indicated it was a part of the Native American tradition to bestow these gifts. The gifts were accepted out of sensitivity to the cultural customs that were in play.
The gifts were given after the graduation had taken place and after all of the cases of the juvenile were dismissed by the court. The recipients did not know the gifts would be given at the end of the graduation ceremony.
CJC Canon 5(C)(5)(c) provides in relevant part that judges should not accept a gift from a party or other person whose interests have come or are likely to come before the judge. If a gift is accepted personally by a judge it should be reported in the same manner as compensation under Canon 6(C). Canon 3(B) requires that judges direct staff subject to their direction and control to observe the same standards that apply to the judge.
In the narrow fact situation described above, the court, but not the judge personally, may retain the ceremonial blanket. The judge should write to the donor and explain that after further reflection and consultation with a group that gives advice on judicial ethics, it would not be permissible for the judge personally to accept the gifts, but the court is gratefully doing so. The judge's letter could also indicate that he/she fully appreciates the traditions of the tribe, but that there are traditions and rules of judicial conduct that preclude personal acceptance of gifts under these circumstances.
The court should consider the adoption of a gift acceptance policy so that it is able to explain to a person why it is not permitted to accept such gifts in the future.
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