State of Washington
Ethics Advisory Committee
The Ethics Advisory Committee is charged with the duty to respond to questions of individual judicial officers about whether specific activities are permitted under the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Committee opinions have traditionally been limited by the scope of the specific question asked. The Committee cautions that each opinion issued is, and was intended to be, limited to the particular question asked and the specific facts furnished, and considered with reference to the question.
Nevertheless, some judges have expressed concern and confusion about some of the Committee's opinions in the specific area of the propriety of judicial officers belonging to, participating in activities of, or attending various types of events of various types of organizations, including those which may be related to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice. For that reason, the Committee has concluded that it is appropriate that an opinion should be issued not in response to a specific question, but rather generally addressing the propriety, under the Code of Judicial Conduct, of a judicial officer becoming associated in any capacity with any organization, no matter how laudatory its purpose.
It may be appropriate for a judicial officer to belong to an organization and yet be inappropriate for a judicial officer to participate in a particular activity of the organization. It may not be appropriate for a judicial officer to belong to an organization but still be permissible for the judicial officer to attend an event sponsored by the organization.
The determination as to whether a particular activity or organization membership is permitted or prohibited should be made only after a careful review of the relevant provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct. This opinion summarizes the rules, issues and factors which should be considered in reaching decisions regarding a judge's association with any organization.
Judges are in a unique position to improve the legal system and the administration of justice, and are encouraged to participate in such efforts. However, the Code of Judicial Conduct restricts some activities as identified and discussed herein.
- Relevant Canons
CJC Canon 2(A) provides in part that judges should conduct themselves at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. CJC Canon 2(B) provides in part that judges should not lend the prestige of their office to advance the private interests of others nor should convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence them.
CJC Canon 3 provides in part that the judicial duties of a judge take precedence over all other activities.
CJC Canon 4 provides that judges, subject to the proper performance of their judicial duties, may engage in quasi-judicial activities if in doing so they do not cast doubt on their capacity to decide impartially any issue that may come before them. CJC Canon 4(C) provides that judges may serve as members, officers, or directors of an organization or governmental agency devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice. Judges may assist such an organization in raising funds and may participate in their management and investment, but they should not personally participate in public fundraising activities.
CJC Canon 5(B) provides that judges may participate in civic and charitable activities that do not reflect adversely upon their impartiality or interfere with the performance of their judicial duties. Judges may serve as officers, directors, trustees, or nonlegal advisors of an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization not conducted for the economic or political advantage of its members, subject to the following limitations: Judges should not serve if it is likely that the organization will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before them or will be regularly engaged in adversary proceedings in any court.
CJC Canon 5(B)(2) provides that judges should not solicit funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization or use or permit the use of the prestige of their office for that purpose, but they may be listed as officers, directors, or trustees of such an organization. Judges should not be speakers or guests of honor at an organization's fundraising events, but they may attend such events.
CJC Canon 5(C)(4) provides that judges and their spouses may accept complimentary invitations to attend a bar-related function or activity devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.
CJC Canon 7(A)(4) provides in part that judges should not engage in any political activity except on behalf of measures to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.
- Major Issues
The major issues judges must consider in deciding whether and to what extent to participate in an organization or activities are:
- The nature of the organization;
- The nature of the judge's role; and
- The nature of the particular activity.
- Relevant Factors
The following checklist may be helpful in assessing whether it would be appropriate to participate in particular activities or a particular organization:
- Participation which may create an appearance of partiality to a particular cause, favoritism or other misuse of public office, even in the absence of any actual wrongdoing or favoritism;
- Participation which may erode the public confidence in the members of the judiciary;
- The organization advocating positions on disputed issues;
- The organization regularly engaging in adversarial proceedings in court;
- The organization filing amicus briefs on disputed issues;
- Participation which may convey the impression that others are in a special position to influence the judge;
- Participation which may interfere with the performance of judicial duties;
- Participation which may cast doubt on the capacity to decide impartially any issue that may come before the court;
- The organization being conducted for the economic or political advantage of its members;
- Participation in the organization's activity which may convey the impression that the judge is engaging in political activity beyond improving the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice;
- The organization endorsing nonjudicial political candidates;
- The organization subscribing to a particular legal philosophy or position which would give the appearance of partiality, i.e., imply commitment to causes that may come before the courts for adjudication;
- Attendance at a fundraiser which may give the appearance that the judge is lending the prestige of the office to support a position that would impair the judge's impartiality;
- The organization being devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice;
- The organization serving primarily a social function;
- An invitation to an activity which would be seen as ordinary social hospitality; and
- The extent of the participation of the judge in the organization; i.e., member, committee member, advisor or guest.
Restrictions on judicial activities are imposed in order to minimize conflicts and the appearance of conflicts with the performance of judicial duties.
In most instances, judges may even be required to give up their memberships in or involvement with certain organizations which serve public interests, such as trial lawyer associations, prosecutor and public defender associations, legal services programs, the ACLU or political parties, etc. The reasons for the need to give up the membership or involvement with the organizations are as varied as the organizations themselves. For example, membership may be prohibited because of the nature of the organization, i.e., whether it is political, or it engages in litigation which would necessitate frequent recusals, or it would identify the judicial officer with a special interest group creating the appearance of partiality. In deciding whether membership is prohibited a judicial officer should consider the purpose of the organization and its goals and objectives.
When a judicial officer is invited to participate in functions of an organization to which the judicial officer does not belong, it is also necessary to consider the reason that the judicial officer has been invited. Participating in a function is prohibited if the intended involvement will: 1) lend the prestige of the office to the organization; 2) create the impression the organization is in a special position to influence the decisions of the judicial officer; 3) necessitate substantial time so as to interfere with the judicial duties; or 4) could result in frequent affidavits of prejudice or recusals.
See Opinions 85-1, 95-5, 87-2, 88-2, 88-9, 88-10, 90-1, 90-4, 90-7, 90-10, 90-12, 91-8, 91-9, 91-19, 91-28, 92-2, 92-8, 93-5 and 93-10 for opinions concerning specific fact situations.
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:
Opinion 93-19—The language in CJC Canon 5(B) has been modified. CJC Canon 5(C)(4) became 5(C)(5). CJC Canon 7(A)(4) became 7(A)(5).
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: