State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 11-02
May a judicial officer accept a free ticket to attend a fundraising dinner hosted by a political party if the judge will be speaking about the judge’s veteran’s court?
A judge was invited to attend a dinner hosted by a political party. Attendees pay a fee to attend and it is a fundraiser for a political party. The judge was offered free attendance and a chance to speak about a therapeutic court with which the judge is involved. The court hears a special docket for defendants who are veterans.
CJC 1.2 provides in relevant part that judges must act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence of the judiciary. Comment  explains that even though judges may participate in community activities for the purpose of promoting public understanding of and confidence in the administration of justice in conducting those activities, a judge must act in a manner consistent with the Code. CJC 1.3 provides in relevant part judges shall not abuse the prestige of judicial office to advance the economic interests of others or allow others to do so. CJC 3.13(B)(10)(b) provides that a judge may accept an invitation to attend an event without charge that is associated with any of the judge’s educational, religious, charitable, or civic activities if that invitation is offered to nonjudges similarly situated.
Political activities of judges are governed by CJC Canon 4 and “political organization” is defined in Terminology. CJC 4.1(A)(4) provides that judges may not solicit funds for, pay an assessment to, or make a contribution to a political organization. Comment  to this rule explains in pertinent part that under Canon 4, judges, to the greatest extent possible, must be free and appear to be free from political influence. Comment  explains in pertinent part that the restrictions in paragraphs (A)(2) (making speeches for political organization or nonjudicial candidate) and (A)(3) (contributing to political organizations or nonjudical candidates) prevent judges from abusing the prestige of office to advance the interests of others (CJC 1.3).
CJC Canon 4 and the rules under it make clear that judges may engage in political activities in only limited circumstances. The first being when the judicial officer or judicial candidate is running for political office (CJC 4.1 and 4.2) and the second being when the judge is participating in a precinct caucus limited to the selection of delegates to a nominating convention for the President (CJC 4.1(A)(5)(b)). The fact situation of the inquiry does not fall under either of the exceptions. Here the judicial officer has been asked to speak at a political organization’s fundraising event, which is prohibited by CJC Canon 4.1 and CJC 1.3. The judicial officer is not appearing as a judicial candidate.
The fact that the judicial officer did not pay to attend the fundraiser does not mitigate the impropriety. By speaking at a fundraising event the judicial officer is abusing the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of others. The Code permits only a limited exception for attending an event without charge. That exception is limited to an event associated with any of the judge’s educational, religious, charitable, or civic activities (CJC 3.13(B)(10(b)); it does not extend to events sponsored by a political organization.
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