Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Dancing Magistrate

A recent ethics opinion from South Carolina:

  OPINION NO. 11 - 2013
RE :Propriety  of a full-time magistrate’s participation as a dancer at a fund-raiser for a  religious organization.


A  full-time magistrate inquires as to the propriety of dancing in a fund-raising  event that is similar to a popular television show (“Dancing with the Stars”)  in which the judge’s religious institution is the recipient of the funds. The  judge will be one of five dancers from the congregation performing with a dance  professional from a local studio.  The  judge will not personally solicit donations, and all monies raised go directly  to the religious organization.  The  solicitations will be made by the religious institution through mailed invitations  to the congregation and through online voting/donations.  While the votes as to the dancers are tallied  to determine a winner, the contributions and identities of the persons  contributing is not published and will be kept confidential.  All thank you notes and follow-up contact  will be generated by the president/executive director of the religious  organization. 


A  full-time magistrate judge may participate as a dancer in a fund-raiser for a  religious organization where the judge does not personally solicit donations or  allow the organization to use the prestige of the judge’s office in  fund-raising efforts.


A judge may  serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an organization  or governmental agency devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system  or the administration of justice or of an educational, religious, charitable,  fraternal, or civic organization not conducted for profit, subject to  limitations and other requirements of the Code.   Rule 501, SCACR, Canon 4.C(3).  A  judge, as an officer, director, trustee, or non-legal advisor, or as a member  or otherwise, may assist such an organization in planning fund-raising and may  participate in the management and investment of the organization’s funds, but  shall not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other  fund-raising activities, except that a judge may solicit funds from other  judges over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate  authority. Canon 4.C(3)(b)(i). 

In Opinion 3-2009, we addressed a  similar question from a part-time judge, who, as here, was invited to  participate as a dancer.  In that matter  the judge would only request donations from other judges over whom the judge  had no supervisory or appellate authority.   The Committee found that such participation was allowed since the  judge’s solicitation for donations was limited as provided by the Canons.

Here, the inquiring judge would not  solicit any donations himself or herself.   The religious organization is responsible for the mailings and online  donations.  Thus, the judge may  participate as a dancer.  However, as we  noted in Opinion 3-2009, the judge is cautioned to abide by all other  provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct.   Canon 1 requires a judge to maintain high standards of conduct in all of  the judge's activities, and Canon 2 prohibits the misuse of the prestige of the  office.  Under these Canons  a judge has a duty to be aware how his/her  participation is being "advertised" in the mailings or the website  established by the religious organization.    Thus, the judge must ensure compliance with Canons 1 and 2 in order to  act as a dancer.

(Mike Frisch)

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