State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 99-10
Does the practice of making monetary terms or sanctions payable to a charitable organization violate the terms of CJC Canon 5(B)(2) regarding limitations on fundraising activities?
Does the answer change if the organization has a specific political agenda involving the legal system versus one that is strictly a charitable organization?
The court’s local rules specify that attorneys are subject to monetary sanctions for violation of civil case scheduling orders. Some of the judges impose monetary terms that they are payable to the county or the court clerk and others that they are payable to such programs as the local county bar association pro bono or volunteer lawyer program.
The judge handles these in two ways: 1) tell the attorney to make a donation of X dollars to the pro bono program and bring the receipt to the judge so that the judge knows the donation is made; or 2) tell the attorney to make a donation to any amount they feel appropriate to a charity of their choice and bring the judge the receipt. The judge does not designate the charity or the amount. The lawyer is given the choice between contributing to the pro bono program or the charity of his or her choice.
CJC Canon 4(C) provides in part that judges may assist a law-related organization in raising funds but they should not personally solicit funds from the public. Canon 5(B)(2) provides in part that judges should not use the prestige of their office to solicit contributions for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization. In other words, the contributions cannot result from either direct solicitation of the public for law-related organizations or as a result of lending the prestige of the office for civic and charitable organizations.
A contribution to a law-related organization in lieu of a sanction payable directly to the county is permissible under Canon 4(C), as it does not constitute a personal solicitation for funds from the public. In this case, the judicial officer has given a lawyer the option to pay a bona fide monetary fine to a law-related program instead of the county. It is also permissible for the judicial officer to give the lawyer the option to make a contribution to a civic or charitable organization provided the organization benefiting from the contribution is not one selected by the judicial officer. The judicial officer should, however, admonish the lawyer not to make the contribution to any organization which has a political agenda involving the legal system.
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