State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 96-02
May a judicial officer join and participate in a domestic violence task force?
The mission statement for this particular task force provides that the mission of the various community service systems in regard to family violence should be to aid any person affected by such violence with the primary focus being the safety of the victim; and to foster a belief, at all levels of the community, that domestic violence shall not be tolerated in the county.
The judicial officer is a full time judge in a district court who hears all aspects of Assault IV Domestic Violence cases. These cases make up a large part of the court’s duties and that of the probation staff which the judicial officer oversees.
Some of the task force goals for the courts are: prosecution and courts need to develop standards for sentencing; courts should not sentence any defendant in domestic violence cases until the defendant’s background and prior convictions have been researched; domestic violence assaults should result in supervised probation; priorities should be given to domestic violence assault cases so the victim will not be required to wait long periods of time before a trial; and sentence revocation hearings should be held promptly.
CJC Canon 4 permits judges to participate in quasi-judicial activities that do not cast doubt on their capacity to decide impartially any issue that may come before them. Because the goals established by the task force adopt a specific agenda which recommends judicial policy and it appears to act as an advocacy group it would not be appropriate for the judicial officer to join and participate in the domestic violence task force as the judicial officer presides over domestic violence cases. This particular task force appears to act as an advocacy group which distinguishes its functions from other groups that do not act in an advocacy role such as the Domestic Relations Commission. This task force advocates for victims of domestic violence and as such is more like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) than it is to other groups which do not engage in the role of advocate.
The judicial officer would not be precluded from meeting with this particular task force even though the judicial officer may not join and participate on the task force.
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