State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 97-04
May a judicial officer participate on an advisory board for a domestic violence court order study?
A public hospital’s injury prevention and research center has been awarded a three-year grant for a domestic violence order study. The research project is entitled “Protection of Women: Criminal Justice and Health Outcomes” and is funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) in a special first time research program for violence against women that is co-sponsored by multiple departments within NIH, as well as other agencies including the National Institute of Justice, the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The object of this research is to evaluate the effectiveness of court orders in preventing subsequent violence and injury to domestic violence victims. This court order study will include a comparison group of abused women who did not have court orders and the use of medical data as well as criminal justice data and survey information to evaluate outcomes.
The judicial officer has been asked to serve as a member of the study’s advisory board. The advisory board will lend its expertise to the research investigators in the conduct of the study and refinement of the study protocol, as well as assist in facilitating access to criminal justice information, and in the long-term provide input and analysis and interpretation of study findings.
This is a volunteer position. Members of the advisory group come from law enforcement, county and city prosecutors, and groups which assist battered women and their children.
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. In addition to individual participation, Canon 4(C) provides that judges may serve as members of an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system and the administration of justice.
Amended Opinion 96-2 held that a judicial officer may not join and participate on a domestic violence task force because in that case the task force’s goals established a specific agenda which recommends judicial policy and also acts as an advocacy group.
The objectives of the study, as outlined above, do not appear to either attempt to establish policies for handling domestic violence cases or to act as advocates for battered women. The focus of the study is to compare the effectiveness of court orders in preventing future violence and injury to domestic violence victims. The study will compare groups of women who did not have domestic violence court orders as well as using medical and criminal justice data and survey information to evaluate outcomes.
The advisory board is being asked to assist the research investigators in the conduct of the study as well as to assist in facilitating access to criminal justice information.
Even though it is permissible for the judicial officer to participate on the advisory board, the judicial officer should not act in any way that would cast doubt on his or her capacity to decide impartially a domestic violence case that may come before the judicial officer. If the board by the nature of its composition or otherwise, becomes an advocacy group then the judicial officer should resign from the advisory board. The judicial officer should also periodically reexamine the objectives of the advisory board to ensure that the objectives remain consistent with the restrictions on participation outlined in Canon 4.
Also see Amended Opinion 96-2.
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