October 13, 2010
Judge Must Pass
Absent a request, a family court judge may not write a letter recommending that a juvenile be permitted to play high school football, according to a recent opinion of the South Carolina Advisory Committee on Standards of Judicial Conduct:
Canon 2 states a judge shall avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety at all times. Rule 501, SCACR. Canon 2B states that a judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interest of others. The Commentary to that section notes that a judge can provide a letter of recommendation based on personal knowledge, but states that a "judge must not initiate communication of information to a sentencing judge or a probation or corrections officer, but may provide such persons information for the record in response to a formal request." The Commentary seems to distinguish between writing a letter for recommendation for college or a job, from transmitting information in other situations.
In this matter, while the judge is not being asked to provide information to the sentencing judge or probation officer, the judge is being asked to communicate information about a juvenile that appeared before the judge to the high school football league, and whether the juvenile should be eligible to play. Providing such information without a formal request, such as a motion by the juvenile or his attorney, could create the appearance that the judge is lending the prestige of judicial office to the juvenile. However, if a formal request is made by motion or otherwise, then the judge could make such decision as is in the best interest of the juvenile.
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