State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 99-14
May a superior court judge make an individual contribution to a fund raising effort to create a memorial to a victim of fatal child abuse? May a district court judge who will not be involved in any of the on-going proceedings involving the victim’s parents or stepparents contribute?
Several years ago a child died from child abuse at the hands of his father and stepmother. The county is naming a small park across from the courthouse for the victim as a statement of commitment to all victims of child abuse. There is a fund raising effort to purchase a bronze memorial in the park to the victim. A fund raising solicitation is planned to county employees and members of the county bar association. Those who contribute will be acknowledged in a pamphlet at the park dedication.
The stepmother was convicted of abuse and continues to the supervised by the superior court as part of her community placement. The father of the victim is a party to on-going dependency matters involving other children in the county. The local public defender’s office has expressed concern about the placement of the memorial in an area where jurors are likely to see it on their way to and from the courthouse.
CJC Canon 2(A) provides in part that judicial officers should act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. CJC Canon 5(B) provides in part that judicial officers may participate in civic and charitable activities that do not reflect adversely upon their impartiality or interfere with the performance of their judicial duties. A judicial officer therefore, can make a contribution only to a cause which meets both of these conditions. That is, the contribution would not cause a reasonable person to question a judicial officer’s impartiality relative to a particular cause or person and if the contribution does not interfere with the performance of judicial duties.
In the present situation there are several facts which are problematic for superior court judges wishing to make a contribution to the memorial fund. First, both of the persons convicted in the child’s death have matters still pending in the superior court. If a judicial officer were to make a contribution, given these pending cases, his or her impartiality might be questioned. Additionally, if a judicial officer were forced to disqualify from any of these pending cases because of the contribution it would interfere with the performance of judicial duties. Second, the park in which the memorial will be displayed is across the street from the courthouse and may be seen by jurors on the way to serve in that capacity. If the jurors were aware that a judicial officer has contributed to the memorial, it may taint the juror’s perception of a judicial officer’s impartiality to preside over other cases. Based on the foregoing, a superior court judge should not make a contribution to the memorial fund.
District court judges will not be presiding over any of the on-going proceedings involving the victim’s parents or stepparents. They will, however, be presiding over other assault cases. If a judicial officer were to make a contribution to a memorial in a park across the street from the courthouse that is intended to be a statement of commitment to all victims of child abuse it could call the judicial officer’s impartiality into question and interfere with his or her ability to perform judicial duties. A district court judge, therefore, should not make a contribution to the memorial fund.
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