State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 96-13
May a judicial officer permit a full-time law clerk to engage in the following activities:
1. (a) Serving on the executive board of a legislative district political party organization? The group engages in get-out-the-vote drives, fundraising, candidate endorsements, voter education, and other political activities, in partisan and nonpartisan local, state and federal elections, and takes stands on initiatives and particular legislative proposals.
(b) Serving on boards of groups such as a community helpline or chamber of commerce, or other community groups, a state environmental political action committee, school levy campaigns or other political groups.
(c) Serving as a political party precinct committee officer.
2. A sideline business. The business would involve gathering publicly available data on voting trends and patterns, as well as campaign and ballot issue contributions and contributors; analyzing and formatting such data; and selling appropriate reports and lists to campaigns for elective office, judicial and non-judicial.
The Code of Judicial Conduct has two provisions concerning court personnel. The first is Canon 3(B)(2) which provides that judges require staff who are subject to the direction and control of the judge to observe the same standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to the judge. This provision is under the section dealing with administrative responsibilities. The second provision is at Canon 7(B)(1)(b) which provides that judges should prohibit employees who are subject to their direction and control from doing things in the judge’s campaign that the judge is not permitted to do. Neither of these provisions concern the activities of court employees when they are engaged in personal political activities or outside employment that is unrelated to the court’s work.
A law clerk may engage in the political and community activities outlined above so long as the law clerk does not use the prestige of the office to advance the group’s interests. The court employee however, may not engage in these activities while at work or use any public resources. Additionally, if the activities interfere with the law clerk’s job performance because the clerk is unable to participate in cases because of a conflict due to the outside activities the clerk may have to cease involvement in the outside activities.
The committee cannot comment on potential limitations on the sideline business without having a factual situation to address.
See Opinions 90-8 and 96-8.
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