March 9, 2011
The Whole Neighborhood Is Watching
An opinion from the South Carolina Advisory Committee on Standards of Judicial Conduct:
OPINION NO. 1 - 2011
RE: Propriety of a Magistrate Court Judge speaking at a Neighborhood Watch meeting.
A Magistrate Court Judge has been asked to speak at a Neighborhood Watch meeting. The Judge, as well as a Municipal Judge and a solicitor have been asked to participate in what has been described as a panel forum at the meeting. The format of the meeting is for the judge and solicitor to provide education information as to their respective roles in “law enforcement.” The members of the Neighborhood Watch association will be invited to submit written questions which will be screened by the association chairman and presented to the panelists. The members will be permitted to express their concerns about issues in law enforcement and neighborhood safety, and the panelists will be asked to comment on their respective functions and roles. The association chairman mentioned that one area of concern with the members has been the perception that alleged criminals are quickly released on bond and the membership wants information on how to stop that cycle.
A Magistrate Court Judge may speak at a Neighborhood Watch meeting.
Rule 501, Canon 4(C)(3), SCACR, expressly provides that a judge should regulate his extra-judicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with his judicial duties. The Code permits a judge to engage in extra-judicial activities, as long as they do not: 1) cast doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially; 2) demean the judicial office; or 3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties. Canon 4(A). Canon 4(B) permits a judge to speak or lecture on the law, the legal system, the administration of justice, and other non-legal subjects, subject to the other requirements of the Code.
The topic on which the judges would be speaking--the Magistrate Court’s function and role in criminal proceedings as well as the bond procedure--appear to meet the restrictions of the Code of Judicial Conduct. However, the Magistrate Court Judge should not comment on specific cases pending before the Magistrate Court or decisions made by another court. In addition, the Magistrate Judge should avoid topics such as how to provide better security in the neighborhood as such opinions may cast reasonable doubt on the Judge’s ability to act impartially.
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