State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 98-01
May a judicial officer accept non-remunerative speaking invitations from partisan political groups seeking education about the court system and elections?
The judicial officer has been asked to come to speak to county partisan political groups at their regular meetings about judicial elections and to educate the attendees as to the role of the courts.
CJC Canon 4(A) provides that judges may speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other activities concerning the law, the legal system and the administration of justice. Canon 7(A)(1)(d) provides that judges may not attend political functions sponsored by political organizations except during judicial campaigns. These two provisions need to be harmonized to determine if a judicial officer may speak about nonpartisan topics at events which are sponsored by partisan groups.
Judicial officers are permitted by Canon 4(A) to participate in activities concerning the law, the legal system and the administration of justice. This canon addresses the need to have judicial officers take an active role in educating the public about the role of the judiciary and judicial elections. The focus of Canon 7(A) is the political conduct in which sitting judges may be engaged. This provision places parameters on the acceptable political conduct in which judicial officers may participate.
When a judicial officer makes an address concerning the law, the legal system or the administration of justice to a partisan group, the fact that the audience is partisan does not per se make the presentation a violation of the canons. The judicial officer needs to look at the nature of the meeting to make a threshold determination if his or her attendance would be appropriate. Is this a function that is intended to be educational or is it a partisan event such as a rally or convention? If the function is educational in nature and the address will cover material as outlined in Canon 4(A), the judicial officer may speak. On the other hand, if the function is of a partisan nature, it may not be appropriate for the judicial officer to appear, or if the event takes on a partisan nature, it may be appropriate for the judicial officer to leave at that point.
Also see Opinions 87-4, 89-17, 95-7 and 96-1.
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