Monday, January 31, 2011

Have A Ball But Don't Ask For Bucks

The Massachusetts Committee on Judicial Ethics recently opined that a judge may participate in a bar association's educational program but may not be involved in the fund raising aspects of the affair. The question presented:

You have received an invitation from a bar association to participate in a conference. Specifically, the bar association has asked you to serve as advisor to the conference, to moderate a bench bar panel, and to attend a bench bar reception. The bar association has also indicated that you are welcome at any other events, including a ball. You ask if participating in these activities is consistent with your obligations under the Code. The Committee believes that it is.

As to severability:

Here, your description demonstrates that the conference has a dual function:  (1) to celebrate the bar association through educational events involving the bench and bar; and (2) to fund a scholarship to benefit needy law students in furtherance of the conference's - and the bar association's - educational focus.  Even though these two purposes are intertwined in that the decision to fund a scholarship is consistent with the educational cast of the conference, they are severable in terms of your duties under the Code.  

     You "shall not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities," Section 4C(3)(b)(i), and you "shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising . . . ."  Section 4C(3)(b)(iv).  You will not run afoul of these provisions as your participation in the Conference is clearly limited to the celebratory, educational aspect by serving as an advisor to the bar association and as the moderator of a Bench Bar Panel.  See Section 4B & Commentary.  The bar association does not intend to use your name for fund-raising purposes in any capacity, and while its print and electronic publications will mention your participation in the educational aspects, the bar association will not otherwise highlight your role.

     The Committee also cautions you that while you may attend the ball or any other conference event when bar association leadership presents the scholarship and publicly acknowledges the sponsors, Commentary to Section 4C(3)(b), you may not participate in those fund-raising-related events by playing an obvious role in connection with that presentation and acknowledgment.  It is on this basis that the Committee's warning in CJE Opinion 92-2 that a judge could not attend an event that had "a dual function of supporting both a charitable cause and a political cause" does not apply.

     Therefore, the conference is structured in such a way that your participation in the educational aspect is consistent with the Code in that it will not give the impression that you are participating in or using the prestige of judicial office for the fund-raising aspect.  See Section 4C(3)(b)(i), (iv); CJE Opinion 2000-4.

(Mike Frisch)



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