State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 13-01
Is it proper for a judicial officer to continue to serve on the community board of a local hospital that belongs to a larger organization that has a network of hospitals?
The answer is based on the following representations made to the Committee: 1) the judge serves on the community board overseeing the operations of the hospital, which is part of a much larger organization; 2) the organization has recently restructured some of its governance process to create the network board that oversees operation of a number of facilities including the hospital on whose board the judicial officer sits; 3) recently, the larger organization has entered into an agreement with a public hospital district in an adjacent county; 4) the organization will lease the public hospital district's facilities and operate them; 5) this facility will stand in a similar position to the network board as the hospital whose board the judicial officer sits on; and 6) the board position does not involve sitting on the board of the public hospital district of the facility recently added to the network nor does the board that the judicial officers sits on make day-to-day decisions about public hospital district facility or other publicly funded hospital.Answer
CJC Canon 1 sets forth general rules concerning the conduct of judicial officers. Among the rules are CJC 1.1, which requires that judicial officers comply with the law, including the Code of Judicial Conduct. CJC 1.2 provides in part that judicial officers must act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary and shall avoid the appearance of impropriety. Comment  to this rule provides that actual improprieties include violations of the law, court rules, or provisions of the Code. The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judicial officer violated this Code or engaged in other conduct that reflects adversely on the judicial officer's honesty, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge.
Canon 3 covers extrajudicial conduct of judges. Generally, judicial officers are permitted to participate in activities that do not interfere with the performance of judicial duties, lead to frequent disqualification, undermine judicial independence, and are not coercive or do not use public resources while engaging in those activities. CJC 3.7(D) in part permits judges to serve on the board of an organization or entity provided the entity will not be engaged in proceedings that would normally come before the judicial officer or be frequently engaged in adversary proceedings in the court upon which the judge sits or any court subject to the appellate jurisdiction of the of the court upon which the judge sits. CJC 3.4 permits judicial officers to accept appointment on governmental bodies that are concerned with the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.
Based on the representations made by the judicial officer, it appears service on the local hospital board may continue. Even though that service may be appropriate, it should be monitored by the judicial officer. Because the network reorganization arrangement is new, it is difficult to gauge how that arrangement will be viewed in the community or if reasonable minds might confuse service on this board with service on the board of the public hospital district, which is prohibited by CJC 3.4.
Further, the judicial officer needs to monitor issues that might be before the court to determine if those issues might be issues that affect the hospital with which the judicial officer is affiliated. In some cases, this may require the judicial officer to disclose the relationship and offer to withdraw. If these issues interfere with the performance of judicial duties, CJC 3.1(B) would require the judicial officer resign from the local hospital board.
Notation: The WSBA representative to the committee recused and did not participate in deliberations on this opinion.
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