Wednesday, November 20, 2013
A recent ethics opinion from South Carolina:
ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON STANDARDS OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT
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.