State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 97-10
A judicial officer has been asked to organize a domestic violence symposium which is sponsored by two civic organizations one of which is a provider of services for victims of domestic violence. That organization operates a battered women’s shelter, provides perpetrator treatment and offers domestic violence advocate services for victims.
The purpose for the symposium is to educate the community and increase awareness of domestic violence, to coordinate community efforts to fight domestic violence, to develop a consensus toward an action plan and to develop a multi-disciplinary community response.
The symposium will feature speakers discussing various aspects of domestic violence. Participants from one discipline would be exposed to ways domestic violence affects and is dealt with by members of other professions. Small group workshops will follow in an effort to develop a consensus toward an action plan for the community response to domestic violence.
The judicial officer has been asked to lead one of the small group workshops. The judge would not advocate a particular approach or philosophy, but would give a perspective on how the courts handle domestic violence cases and facilitate group discussion that may lead to a community consensus on different approaches and strategies for preventing domestic violence, treating perpetrators, investigating and prosecuting offenders and administering justice in courts.
CJC Canon 2(A) provides that judges should conduct themselves at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. Canon 4(A) provides in part that judges may participate in activities to improve the law, the legal system and the administration of justice, if in so doing they do not cast doubt upon their impartiality to decide any issue that may come before them. 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.
One of the sponsors of the symposium is a provider of services for domestic violence victims and offers domestic violence advocate services for victims. Because that organization acts as an advocate for domestic violence victims the judicial officer should not act as a member of the planning team for the symposium or serve in an advisory capacity as that could erode the judicial officer’s appearance of impartiality and cast doubt over the judicial officer’s ability to preside over domestic violence proceedings.
The purpose of the symposium is educational. Therefore, the judicial officer may address the symposium and/or act as a moderator and give a judicial perspective on the way domestic violence cases impact the courts. Even though the judicial officer may participate in the symposium, as either a speaker or moderator, the judicial officer should not speculate on what the law should be or how it could be improved in particular cases and the judge should not act as an advocate or give the impression as to how the judicial officer might rule in a particular case.
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