State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 11-01
May a judicial officer compile humorous letters and/or pleadings sent to the court into a publication that could be sold with the proceeds going to a charitable cause?
The following representations were made to the Committee: 1) Many courts keep an informal file of humorous letters and/or pleadings. They are almost always reviewed in the normal course of business and placed in individual files. 2) The judge would like to collect as many as the judge can and put them in a book or some kind of compilation and would allow some charitable cause to benefit from its sale. 3) The judge does not care what worthy cause is benefited but some that occur to the judge include legal aid, crisis support network or some other advocates for domestic violence victims. 4) The judge would not use staff to accomplish the project. The judge would only work on it outside of court hours. 5) The judge would ask other courts to either send additional materials to the judge’s house or bring it to the judge at the spring judicial conference. 6) The judge would redact any and all identification information. 7) The judge would write some editorial observations.
The Code of Judicial Conduct does not prohibit a judicial officer from compiling in a publication letters and pleadings that are received by courts. Even though the judge may compile the letters and pleadings the judge should exercise caution in selecting the documents for inclusion and in drafting editorial observations so that it does not appear that the judicial officer is trivializing or in any way disparaging the persons who authored the letters or pleadings. For example, depending on the circumstances, pointing to some letters or pleadings in a humorous light might be viewed as demeaning individuals based upon their race, sex, gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, which would be proscribed by CJC 3.1. See Comment . Depending on the facts, humor premised on a person’s lack of education, sophistication, familiarity with the legal system, or facility with language could undermine the judge’s integrity and impartiality and public confidence in the judiciary. CJC 1.2 and CJC 3.1(C). The identity of the person submitting the letter or pleading and the identity of the case to which the letter or pleading is attached should not be revealed.
The Code permits the proceeds to go to a charitable or civic organization, provided that activities of the organization would not call a judicial officer’s impartiality into question. Designating an organization that advocates for domestic violence victims violates CJC 1.2 and CJC 3.1(A) and (C). Proceeds could be designated for other charitable or civic organizations if those organizations would not call the judicial officer’s impartiality into question or lead to frequent disqualification provided the judicial officer does not engage in the fundraising activities beyond those permitted by CJC 3.7(A) and (B).
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