Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ethical Tennis Anyone?

The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee opines that a judge may serve as honorary chairman of a bench-bar tennis tournament:

The inquiring judge has been asked to lend the judge’s name as an “Honorary Chairman” for a Bench-Bar tennis tournament which the local voluntary bar association is organizing to promote collegiality between judges and lawyers.  The event is not raising any funds for the bar association or any civil or charitable activity.  The bar association is defraying the event’s costs through donations which the bar association is soliciting from lawyer and non-lawyer sponsors.  The non-lawyer sponsors are expected to be vendors which cater to lawyers.  Such vendors may include, but are not limited to, court reporters, copy services, mediation companies, trial consultants, and banks which service lawyer trust accounts. The bar association will solicit all donations, collect all monies, and make all payments.  The event will occur at a city-owned tennis center.  The costs are the court rental, equipment, tennis pros, food, drink, signs, and prizes.  There are expected to be several dozen players, including eight to ten judges.

The conclusion:

The inquiring judge’s participation as “Honorary Chairman” of the Bench-Bar tennis tournament would comply with Canon 4D(2)(b).  A local bar association is an “organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch, [and] the administration of justice.” The event serves those law-related purposes by promoting collegiality between judges and lawyers.  The event does not serve a fund-raising purpose for the bar association or any civic or charitable activity.  The judge’s participation would be limited to appearing at, receiving recognition at, having the judge’s title used in conjunction with, and being the guest of honor at, the event.  The judge is not going to solicit any donations, collect any monies, or make any payments.

Even if we perceived the donations as converting the event into serving a fund-raising purpose, we still would conclude that the inquiring judge’s participation as “Honorary Chairman” of the event complies with Canon 4D(2)(b) and its commentary.  The event would concern the legal system and the administration of justice by promoting collegiality between judges and lawyers. The funds raised would be used for a law-related purpose by defraying the costs of the event, which itself serves a law-related purpose.  The judge would not be engaging in the direct solicitation of funds.  The bar association, as an organization, does not engage in advocacy on behalf of parties who may appear before the judge, and so the judge’s participation would not cast doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge.

If we were to opine otherwise on the instant issue, then it would call into question a number of voluntary bar association events at which individual judges speak, receive awards or other recognition, are featured, or are the guests of honor.  Such events regularly rely on lawyer and nonlawyer sponsors to defray the events’ costs.

(Mike Frisch)

Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink

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