Wednesday, March 11, 2009
From the Ohio Supreme Court web page:
Two recent advisory opinions from the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline offer guidance on travel expenses and dinner invitations for juvenile court judges and staff and on outside employment for full-time magistrates.
Opinion 2009-2 covers the proper conduct of juvenile court judges and court staff when a private placement facility for juveniles offers payment or reimbursement of travel expenses to the facility or extends gratuitous dinner invitations. The source of travel expenses under this type of relationship is improper under both the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct and Ohio Ethics Law, according to the opinion. “A reasonable person would question whether influence was wielded and whether partiality was exercised in the placement of a juvenile in a facility that pays or reimburses the travel, meals, and lodging expenses of the judge or court staff.”
As for the gratuitous dinner invitation, the opinion states that an invitation extended in this manner does not fall under “ordinary social hospitality” under Rule 3.13(A)(3) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. “The gratuitous non-conference meal paid for by the owner (of the) private placement facility should not be accepted because the owner is interested in the court’s orders to place juveniles in private facilities.” Ethics law permits accepting a meal by a judge as long as it doesn’t result in a “substantial and improper influence.” However, “a meal is an improper influence when the source of the meal is a person interested in matters before, regulated by, or doing or seeking to do business with the court. ... Thus, by application of R.C. 102.03(I) the gratuitous non-conference meal paid for by the private placement facility should not be accepted.”
The opinion also notes that reporting on an annual financial disclosure statement the acceptance of travel expenses or a gratuitous non-conference meal via this type of arrangement does not resolve all of the impropriety.
Opinion 2009-1 considers whether it’s proper for a full-time magistrate to engage in outside employment performing legal research projects as an independent contractor for a legal publishing company. Rule 3.11 of the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct greatly limits a judge’s or magistrate’s opportunities to engage in outside employment with a business entity. The activity is not permitted because none of the exceptions in section B of this rule apply:
- The legal publisher is not a business closely held by the judge [magistrate] or members of the judge’s [magistrate’s] family.
- The legal publisher is not a business entity primarily engaged in investment of the financial resources of the judge [magistrate] or members of the judge’s [magistrate’s] family.
- The proposed legal research activities for the business entity do not constitute writing or teaching for purposes of the rule.
The opinion also notes that a magistrate performing this kind of work, which wasn’t explicitly restricted under the old Code of Judicial Conduct, should stop as soon as practical; that the opinion does not prohibit a full-time magistrate from writing or teaching as long as certain conditions are met; and the advice offered in this opinion also applies to a full-time judge.