Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Magistrate's Greatest Hits

A recent opinion from the South Carolina Judicial Ethics Adfvisory Committee:


A newly appointed Associate Municipal Judge is concerned about the impact of two songs released by the judge before his appointment.  Over fifteen years ago, the judge released two songs through a record company that were re-released on CDs in 2000.  The songs are also available for download on several websites.  The judge has never received any money or royalties for the sale or downloads of the songs.   One song addresses police officers who have been killed in the line of duty.  The judge did pledge that if any royalties are ever received, the royalties will be donated to InVestUSA, an organization that purchases bulletproof vests for agencies that cannot afford to purchase them.  The other song addresses drunk driving.  The judge pledged that any royalties received from this song would be donated to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).  The judge inquires into the propriety of serving as Associate Municipal Judge under these circumstances.


The judge may serve as Associate Municipal Judge because the songs released were prior to his appointment as judge.


Canon 4 governs a judge's extra judicial activities, but notes that a judge cannot be completely isolated from the community, nor can there be complete separation of a judge from extra-judicial activities.  Commentary, Canon 4.  At the time the songs were recorded and released, the judge had not yet been appointed to the bench.  Thus, the judge, at that time, was not limited in his activities or subject to Canon 4.   Additionally, since the events happened before the judge's ascension to the bench, there is no appearance of impropriety or impartiality that would violate Canon 2. Since the judge was not a member of the judiciary at that time, there was certainly no prohibition on his activities in releasing the songs or pledging the royalties, and there is no violation of the Canons by the judge's service on the bench.

(Mike Frisch)


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This opinion only makes sense if the pledge of royalties created some sort of legal obligation. Otherwise, some further discretionary action is required to perform the pledge. That action would necessarily be post-appointment. And that would violate Canon 2.


Posted by: FixedWing | Oct 14, 2010 6:07:41 PM

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