State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 99-13
Is it proper for a court to apply for and receive grants or gifts, such as three network printers, from a private foundation, when those grants and gifts are blinded so that no particular donor can be identified as the source of any gift?
May judges attend or speak about the needs of the court at a reception sponsored by a charitable foundation established jointly by members of the plaintiff and defense trial bar associations to provide support and grant funding for the courts from private sources?
May a copy of the foundation’s brochure, which has a donor card attached, be available for reception attendees to pick up if they want more information about the foundation?
May a poster board be displayed at the reception which acknowledges those who have already contributed to the foundation?
The foundation is a charitable organization established jointly by the defense and plaintiff trial lawyers to support and grant funding for the courts from private sources. The foundation was established to help bridge the gap left by shrinking budgets and increasing caseloads in the courts.
The foundation solicits donations from law firms, lawyers, businesses and others interested in enhancing the administration of justice. Donations are pooled, so that no one particular donor can be identified as the source of any grant or gift made to the courts.
The foundation recently made its first gift to a trial court. The foundation’s inaugural reception is planned. Judges and lawyers have been invited to attend the reception; several judges have been invited to speak at the reception about the funding needs of the court.
In response to the invitation to the reception, three judges expressed concerns over the propriety of the courts being beneficiaries of a charitable foundation.
CJC Canon 2(B) provides in part that judicial officers should not allow relationships to influence their judicial conduct or judgment nor should they convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence them. Canon 4(A) provides in part that judges may participate in activities concerning the law, the legal system and the administration of justice provided if in doing so they do not cast doubt on their capacity to decide impartially any issue that may come before them. Canon 4(C) provides in part that judges may serve as members, officers and directors or an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice. They may assist organizations in raising funds and may participate in their management and investment but should not personally solicit contributions from the public. They may attend fund raising activities and make recommendations to granting agencies on projects and programs concerning the law, the legal system and the administration of justice.
In considering whether to accept donations from a particular organization, judicial officers should bear in mind whether the size or frequency of donations might affect the public’s confidence in the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
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