State of Washington
Ethics Advisory Committee
- May a judicial officer be a member of an organization, the stated purpose of which is to advance the legal rights of women, if its activities include lobbying and direct participation in litigation?
- May a judicial officer purchase a ticket for and attend the organization's annual fundraising dinner? Does it matter if the ticket is complimentary?
- May a judicial officer attend and make a purchase at the organization's fundraising auction?
The answer is premised on the following representations made to the Committee: The activities of the organization include: 1) engaging in political activities; 2) direct participation in litigation it has identified as having an impact on the legal rights of women; and 3) lobbying on such issues.
CJC Canon 7(A) provides for limitations on a judicial officer's political activities. Those restrictions 1) prevent a judicial officer from engaging in any political activities except on behalf of measures to improve the law, the legal system and the administration of justice (CJC Canon 7(A)(4)) and 2) prevent a judicial officer from contributing to a political organization (CJC Canon 7(A)(2)). CJC Canon 7(B)(1)(c) provides that judicial officers should not announce their views on disputed legal or political issues. CJC Canon 5(B)(1) provides that judges may participate in extrajudicial activities that do not reflect adversely upon their impartiality or interfere with the performance of their judicial duties provided that the organization will not be regularly engaged in adversary proceedings in any court. The comment to this provision amplifies this restriction by discussing types of organizations which may make policy decisions that may have political significance or imply commitment to causes that may come before the courts for adjudication. We therefore, answer each question as follows:
- A judicial officer should not be a member of an organization which regularly engages in adversary proceedings in court and takes positions on disputed legal or political issues.
- If an organization regularly engages in adversary proceedings in court and takes positions on disputed legal or political issues a judicial officer should not purchase a ticket for and attend the organization's annual fundraising event. It does not matter if the ticket is complimentary because if the event is promoted as a fundraiser there is an appearance, which cannot be overcome, that the judicial officer supports activities in which the organization engages. This does not prohibit a judicial officer from attending a CLE, awards banquet or similar event held by the organization provided it is not advertised as a fundraiser. The judicial officer should not participate in business activities at any event.
- A judicial officer should neither attend nor make a purchase at the organization's fundraising auction.
See Opinion 91-27 for a general discussion of the factors a judicial officer should consider when weighing the appropriateness of attending an event.
NOTE: Effective June 23, 1995, the Supreme Court amended the Code of Judicial Conduct. In addition to reviewing the ethics advisory opinions, the following should be noted:
Amended Opinion 91-28—“Political organization” is defined in the Terminology section of the new Code. CJC Canon 7(A)(4) became 7(A)(5). See new language in Canon 7(B)(1)(c).
The Supreme Court adopted a new Code of Judicial Conduct effective January 1, 2011. In addition to reviewing the ethics advisory opinions, the following should be noted:
CJC Terminology Section “Political Organization”