Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Possessed In Pennsylvania

Disciplinary Counsel prosecuting the Tennessee judge accused of ethics violations arising from her changing a child's name from Messiah has filed a prehearing memorandum arguing that the name change and a subsequent interview violated judicial canons.

The memo acknowledges that there is no Tennessee case precisely on point and gathers precedents from other jurisdictions that have dealt with judges who inject personal religious beliefs into court proceedings.

The best of the bunch involves a Pennsylvania judge named named Fink:

Among the various charges lodged against the judge in Fink, was the inclusion of a bizarre incident where the judge interrupted a delinquency hearing and called for an in-chambers conference...At this meeting, [he] suggested that the boy might be possessed by demons and that a local priest should examine him to determine whether an exorcism was required. [He] then called a separate meeting with the boy's parents and told them the same thing.

He also had been found to regularly engage in religious commentary during Court hearings of various natures, and admittedly favored criminal defendants who professed belief a belief in Christianity.

We will post any response filed on behalf of the accused judge.

Update: There is now in place an order governing media coverage. The media is, among other things, directed to wear appropriate attire (unspecified) and comport themselves in a manner befitting the dignity of the proceedings. (Mike Frisch)

February 26, 2014 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Judge May DJ Classic Rock

A recent opinion from the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee:


May a newly-appointed judge continue to host a  weekend radio program playing classic songs for a commercial radio station?

ANSWER: Yes, as long as the judge ensures that the judge’s hosting  duties do not demean the judicial office, the judge is not an employee of the  radio station and the judge does not personally participate in advertising  promotions.


The inquiring  judge has recently been appointed to the bench and prior to the appointment had  hosted a weekend radio program on a commercial radio station for many years.  The hosted program generally consisted of playing “classic hits” from the  1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s. The inquiring judge acted essentially as a disk  jockey – introducing songs, giving the weather, and dispensing music trivia  about the songs/artists played. 

During the  inquiring judge’s radio program, the radio station utilized pre-recorded  advertisements but the inquiring judge was not involved in the selling or  recording of such advertisements. Occasionally, advertising packages sold to  advertisers included the inquiring judge giving away a product or service to a  listener (e.g. the third caller wins a glass bottom boat ride from an  advertiser).

The inquiring  judge also received compensation from the radio station for his disk jockeying  duties in the amount of $20.00 per hour while in the studio “live” amounting to  $60.00 per week in compensation.

The inquiring judge recognizes the  applicable judicial canons raised by his inquiry and the Committee would like  to acknowledge the judge for his efforts in both providing the Committee with a  detailed factual basis outlining his inquiry and for his review of the Code of  Judicial Conduct and past opinions of the Committee.

Rock on! (Mike Frisch)

February 19, 2014 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Judge And Witness Were Facebook Friends But Conviction Affirmed

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed a conviction in a drug distribution case notwithstanding the fact that the judge was Facebook friends with an undercover informant who was a key state witness.

The court found that the digital connection did not create an appearence of impropriety or impair the judge's responsibilities as the thirteenth juror

The Defendant asserts that because the trial judge is Facebook “friends” with Dunaway, the appearance of bias is present. In this instance, the Defendant has simply not established that the trial judge’s participation in the social network Facebook prevented him from properly exercising his role as thirteenth juror. The record in this case is not developed as to the length of the Facebook relationship between the trial court and the confidential informant, the extent of their internet interaction or the nature of the interactions. The fact that the trial judge was “friends” on Facebook with a witness is not sufficient proof that the trial court could not impartially fulfill its duty as thirteenth juror. In our review of the record, we find nothing to suggest that the trial court did not adequately function in its role as thirteenth juror and nothing to indicate bias on the part of the trial court.

There is a warning note in a concurring opinion

...the opinion in my view should not stand for the proposition that a judge’s Facebook relationship with a litigant or a key witness for a litigant poses no ground for disqualification. I accept and agree with the trial judge’s commentary that one cannot reasonably expect a trial judge living in a small community to recuse himself or herself because he or she is acquainted with a litigant or a key witness. When a judge shares a Facebook “friendship” with such a person, however, the aggrieved party may be able to show that this “social media” relationship is more active, regular, or intimate than mere incidental community propinquity might suggest. For instance, how intentional is the relationship? Who initiated it and when? How do the participants use the medium? What type of information is shared? What is the frequency of the communications? Certainly, I could envision a properly presented Rule 10B motion that, upon proof, evinces at least an appearance of impropriety. See Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10 §1.2 (“A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”). For instance, as in the present case, the judge’s familiarity with the Facebook “friend” may indicate his or her awareness of the “friend’s” conflict with the criminal justice system.

(Mike Frisch)

February 19, 2014 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Revised Opinion On Judicial Recusal

This report rom Bert Crow on the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court

A judge is required to recuse from a case handled by a lawyer who participates in the judge’s campaign if there’s a “substantial political relationship” with the lawyer during the campaign fundraising period, according to an Ohio Supreme Court Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline advisory opinion.

Opinion 2014-1 covers Rule 2.11 of the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct. The lawyer requesting the advisory opinion also asked the board to re-examine a 1992 Advisory Opinion, which addressed some aspects of disqualification questions under the former code. Based on its updated view, the board withdrew the advice given in Advisory Opinion 92-9.

“Jud.Cond.R. 2.11 requires disqualification ‘in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned,’” according to the opinion. “The political reality in Ohio is that judges are publicly-elected officials. Lawyers are charged with advancing the administration of justice, which includes participation in the evaluation of candidates for judicial office. This participation often takes the form of supporting a judge during an election campaign.”

“Given this framework,” the opinion continues, “the Board is of the opinion that a lawyer’s mere participation in a current judicial election campaign does not create a reasonable question as to the judge’s impartiality when the lawyer is before the judge.”

“However, if a lawyer’s current campaign activities evidence a substantial political relationship with a judge, a reasonable person would question the judge’s impartiality in cases involving the lawyer.”

Rather than creating a “bright-line test” regarding the judicial campaign activity of lawyers, the opinion lays out the factors for a judge to consider – on a case-by-case basis – to determine whether a substantial political relationship exists.

“If a judge concludes that he or she has a substantial political relationship with a lawyer involved in a case before the judge, disqualification is warranted for the duration of the current campaign fundraising period.”

The opinion goes on to detail criteria for determining when a lawyer’s participation in a campaign is substantial.

“Factors relevant to determining if a lawyer’s campaign activity creates a substantial political relationship with the judge include the length and level of campaign involvement, including whether the lawyer has campaign management responsibilities, the extent of the lawyer’s fundraising activities, whether the lawyer’s name appears on solicitation letters, emails, and the like, whether the election is contested, and the type of election (statewide, multi-county, or local). A lawyer’s title in a judicial campaign may be indicative of a substantial political relationship with the judge, but is not a determining factor in a disqualification analysis.” The board further stated that “[a]ny political ties between the laywer and judge occurring outside the campaign are also relevant.”

In offering this revised guidance to candidates and lawyers involved in campaigns, the board opinion specifically rescinded an earlier opinion from 1992 that had been based on the former Code of Judicial Conduct that was repealed in 2007.

“Because the Board now concludes that under the current Code and affidavit of disqualification cases decided after Opinion 92-9, a lawyer’s campaign involvement may require disqualification if there is a substantial political relationship between the judge and lawyer, … we withdraw Opinion 92-9 in its entirety.”

(Mike Frisch)

February 13, 2014 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Unethical Speech Or "Chicago-Style" Politics?

The Illinois Administrator has filed an amended complaint alleging that a candidate for judicial office made false statements concerning his opponent's work as a public defender:

The front side of Respondent’s campaign mailer referred to  a 1989 case in St. Clair County in which Rodney Woitdke ("Woidtke") had been  convicted of murder. The mailer stated that Woidtke spent 12 years in prison for  a murder that he did not commit, and it cited an opinion of the Illinois  Appellate Court for 5th Judicial District in 2000 that reversed the  denial of Woidtke’s post-conviction petition and remanded for his case for a new  trial, on the basis of a conflict of interest on the part Woidtke’s trial  counsel, then-Assistant Public Defender Brian Trentman ("Trentman").  Respondent’s mailer then stated the following:

"Supervising Public Defender VINCENT J. LOPINOT and his Assistant, Brian Trentman ‘were NEGLIGENT in their representation of Mr. Woidtke in a 1989 criminal proceeding that resulted in his wrongful conviction of murder of Audrey Cardenas.’ (Source: Woidtke v. St. Clair County, St. Clair Public Defenders Office, Brian K. Trentman and Vincent Lopinot, No. 02-4223, May 2003) (sic)"

In the above-quoted text, Judge Lopinot’s name was  in a very large font and all capital letters, while Trentman’s name was in a  very small font and with only the first letters capitalized. See Exhibit  One.

On the mailer, accompanying the above-quoted text, was a  photograph of Judge Lopinot that bore the epigraph "NEGLIGENT" and was imposed  over a larger photograph of a man whose wrists and mouth are bound.

Respondent’s representations that Judge Lopinot had  supervised Trentman in the Woidtke case, and that Judge Lopinot was negligent in  the case, were false. Judge Lopinot had no involvement in the Woidtke case in  1989.

Respondent knew that his representations that Judge  Lopinot had supervised Trentman in the Woidtke case, and that Judge Lopinot was  negligent in the case, were false, or he made the representations with reckless  disregard as to their truth or falsity.

The answer is a vigorous denial of all the allegations.

The Respondent alleges that the charges against him are motivated by the fact that he ran as a Republican:

On information and belief, the prosecution here may be instigated for political purposes, with the complainants hoping to use this process to gain political advantage and/or to cover up their own wrongdoing. [Respondent] Duebbert was a Republican candidate for judicial office, and made a strong showing in the 2012 election, including receiving more votes than Lopinot in Monroe, Perry, Randolph, and Washington County (with a final tally of 55.57% to 44.43% in Lopinot's favor). Further, even if Lopinot did not supervise Trentman in his (conflicted) defense of Woidtke, three persons who recently ran for Democratic judicial office were involved in the Woidtke prosecution, and - based upon their roles therein - might have deemed themselves aggrieved by Duebbert's reference to the Woidtke case.

The answer also contends that the speech at isssue was protected by the Supreme Court's decision in  Republican Party of Minnesota v. White. (Mike Frisch)

February 7, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process, Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Messiah V. Martin

A stipulation of facts has been entered into in the Tennessee judicial disciplinary proceeding involving the Magistrate who changed a child's name from Messiah to Martin.

The stipulation notes that the "father [of the child] and his family were concerned about the child being named Messiah."

Further, it is stipulated that the magistrate found that the name change was in the child's best interests, that only Jesus Christ may hold the title and that the name Messiah "places an undue burden on him as a human being, he cannot fulfill." (Mike Frisch)


February 6, 2014 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Former Jersey City Judge Suspended

This tale of traffic and Fort Lee (actually parking and Jersey City) does not involve the Governor of the Garden State.

Rather, the former Chief Judge of the Jersey City Municipal Court (with a law office in Fort Lee) was suspended by the New Jersey Supreme Court for six months.

The Disciplinary Review Board found that the judge

...abused her authority by adjudicating nine parking tickets that had been issued to her "significant other." Respondent either dismissed those tickets outright or wrote "Emergency" on them and then dismissed them, even though she was aware that no emergency had existed. Respondent dismissed the tickets so that her significant other would avoid having to pay the resulting fines.

The judge pleaded guilty to tampering with public records and falsifying records.

The Office of Attorney Ethics sought a two-to-three year suspension. (Mike Frisch)

February 5, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process, Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Backwaters Of New Jersey

A former municipal court judge who had "committed egregious legal errors in his conduct of the proceedings" involving two criminal defendants has been reprimanded by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The defendants were initially given time to retain counsel.

When they were unable to do so, the judge told them that they had waived their right to a public defender (which one defendant now sought). The judge then conducted the trial without either defense counsel or the prosecutor.

The defendants were tried and convicted in less than one hour.

After counsel was appointed on appeal, a new trial was granted. The court concluded that the trial before the reprimanded judge

transformed the role of the court from a neutral and detached magistrate and evoked the specter of the backwater "judge, jury and executioner" figure that has never had any place in American jurisprudence.

The judge explained that "he was not attempting to prosecute the case, but rather was trying to move the court's calendar along."

The court

Judge DiLeo conducted this trial on his own terms. He denied the defendants’ request for counsel, forced them to go to trial pro se after refusing their request for a public defender, prosecuted the case with the help of the arresting police officer, personally cross-examined the defendants, and found the defendants guilty based on testimony that he himself had elicited during his cross-examination. Furthermore, at the conclusion of those proceedings, Judge DiLeo sent these two pro se defendants to jail where they remained for 124 days for non-violent disorderly persons offenses. Not only the defendants but also the judicial system were victims. The judge violated basic principles and procedures of our judicial system that people have a right to expect a municipal court to follow when prosecuting a citizen for a disorderly persons offense.

The court thus concluded that the conduct of the trial "cast a pall over the judiciary as a whole..." (Mike Frisch)

January 27, 2014 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Former Tax Court Judge Censured

A former Minnesota Tax Court chief judge (who is not admitted to practice in Minnesota) has been publicly censured by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The court found that the judge violated the Code of Judicial Conduct

by failing to timely release opinions, falsely certifying compliance with Minnesota law, and falsely representing deadlines in court decisions.

The court's order was referred to the Wisconsin disciplinary counsel.

Further, the court will supervise any future application that the judge makes for Minnesota Bar admission. (Mike Frisch)

January 15, 2014 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Patient Judge Recused

No, not for her patience but for being a patient.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed a trial judge's denial of a motion to recuse himself in a medical malpractice case.

The judge was a current patient of an expert witness in the case, who had performed surgery on her:

At the very least, an appearence of impropriety arises where the trial judge was a patient of a key expert witness in a medical malpractice action during the pendancy of the action in the court, albeit in a different division.

Although the court was "loath to see this tortured litigation further protracted," it remanded the case for transfer to a different judge. (Mike Frisch)

January 15, 2014 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Personal Favors, Prayers in Chambers, Get Justice Censured

A Justice of the New York Supreme Court, Bronx County, has been censured by the Commission on Judicial Conduct.

The justice entered into an agreed statement of facts in response to a charge that "on numerous occasions [she] asked and/or caused her court staff to perform non-work-related personal tasks for her and to participate in religious and secular activities associated with her religion or church."

The justice had her secretary and court attorney pick up her daughter from school, had her secretary take her to a hair salon three times and had several employees do personal errands and work for her.

The court attorney had to go with the justice to Home Depot "to help respondent purchase potting soil and plants for a function at respondent's church."

The court attorney then assisted in repotting the plants for the church (clearly no Brendan Sullivan here).

The justice also had court staff join her for prayer in chambers and participate in religious activities after business hours. (Mike Frisch)

January 9, 2014 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Deleterious Effects Of Alcohol

A village justice who is also an attorney has been censured by the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct as a result of a driving under the influence offense that was exacerbated by his behavior when the police arrived.

The justice rear-ended a vehicle that was properly stopped at a traffic light. As the commission noted, the other driver called 911 while the justice called a lawyer.

The conduct was related to a longstanding alcohol that the justice has now addressed through a treatment regime.

Respondent's unruly, self-destructive and at times suicidal behavior at the time of the incident was instigated by the deleterious efects of alcohol, which significantly impaired his clarity and self-control. With the benefit of sobriety, respondent regrets that he did not behave in a manner consistent with the integrity and dignity required of all judges, on or off the bench, and that he was burdensome and recalictant with the police officers.

To his benefit, he did not invoke his judicial office in the incident. (Mike Frisch)

January 9, 2014 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Answering For Messiah

The Tennessee Child Support Magistrate charged with ethics violations arising out of her sua sponte changing an infant's name from Messiah to Martin has filed an answer to the allegations.

The answer  substantially admits the factual averments with respect to the conduct and her religious motivation in the name-change but denies that the conduct subjects her to sanctions. (Mike Frisch)

January 7, 2014 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Art Of Judging

The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee welcomes the New Year with this opinion


Whether the inquiring judge may display art in  the judge's judicial chambers in connection with a program under which the  local government acquires art for the purpose of display in public buildings,  where the judge does not conduct hearings in the chambers, but in which the  judge regularly is visited  by other  judges, law clerks, interns, clerks, court staff, government officials, and  private guests.




The local government in a county in which the inquiring judge maintains  judicial chambers has a public, governmental art-in-public- places program  under which it acquires art for the purpose of display in public buildings.  Government officials advised the inquiring judge that they consider the judge's  chambers as qualifying for the program. While not an area open to the general  public, in that the inquiring judge does not conduct hearings there, the  judge's judicial chambers is a government office regularly visited by other  judges, law clerks, interns, clerks, court staff, government officials, and  private guests.

The local government appears as a  litigant in the court over which the inquiring judge presides. The inquiring  judge asks whether the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct "would prohibit or  disfavor art from this program being placed in [the judge's]  chambers." 


Under  the facts of this case noted above, the Committee does not perceive the judge’s  decision to permit the use of the judge’s chambers for the display of art  acquired by the local government for display in public buildings pursuant to  its art-in-public-places program as conduct which would require the judge’s  disqualification in cases involving the local government as a participant or  implicating the local government’s interests. That is, such conduct would not create  in reasonable minds, with knowledge of all the relevant circumstances that a  reasonable inquiry would disclose, a perception that the judge's ability to preside  in such cases with integrity and impartiality is impaired.   Further  the Committee does not perceive the judge’s participation in this public, local  government program to be information that the parties or their lawyers might  consider relevant to the question of disqualification. Thus, disclosure would  not be required, even when the local government is a participant or interested in  a case before the judge.  

The  Committee finds no distinction between the placement of the art object(s) in  the judge’s chambers or in a courtroom in the courthouse in which the judge  sits. Neither is owned by the judge, and either may be subject to viewing by  members of the public under appropriate circumstances.

(Mike Frisch)

January 6, 2014 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Judges, God And Country

An opinion from the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee:



May a judge attend an annual event called “God and Country Day,” organized by a local church which focuses on the laws of the state and country and its foundation in Judeo-Christian values?




Is it permissible for a judge to pose for a photograph with the pastor and other elected officials, knowing that it would be published in a local newspaper?


ANSWER: Yes, unless the judge is aware or has reason to believe that the pastor intends to use the photograph to advance the private interests of the church through solicitation of members or donations.


If asked, may the judge make public religious comments from the pulpit at this event?

ANSWER: Yes, as long as the judge’s comments do not otherwise violate the Canons.

(Mike Frisch)

December 24, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Judge In Contempt

The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed a contempt citation against a county court of common pleas judge for disobeying an order of the court of appeals in a juvenile matter.

The order involved media access to the case brought by the Cincinatti Enquirer.

The court of appeals had allowed the paper into court without conditions. The judge then prohibited publication of names. The paper argued that the judge's order was a prior restriant on its right to publish.

The court here rejected the judge's contention that she had complied with the express mandate of the court of appeals' order. had this report. (Mike Frisch)

December 23, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"Choose Your Actions Wisely"

A circuit judge who initiated an electronic mail exchange over an IPAD received a letter of informal adjustment from the Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission.

The recipient was "at one time married to an extended family member of [the judge]."

The message

This is Judge [name]. Lynn's IPAD must be delivered to Kelly Underwood's mailbox by 9:30 a [sic] or I will turn the matter over to Prose uting attorney.


Really judge [name] turn it over for what. Looking at my son's IPAD.

Rejoinder from the judge

Choose your actions wisely.

The judge admitted that she should not have used the title in the e-mail. There was "a long history of differences between [the recipient] and [the judge's] family." (Mike Frisch)

December 17, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Let Justice Be Coined

The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has given a qualified blessing to a judge awarding deserving persons a so-called "challenge coin" for service to the justice system.

The coin

...would be given at the judge’s  discretion and only as a reward for hard work and dedication to the court or  community.  The coin would be produced at  the judge’s own expense and would bear the judge’s name and judicial circuit,  as well as the date of the judge’s investiture.   The coin would also bear the words “fiat justitia,” a Latin phrase  meaning “let justice be done.”  

The analysis

In reaching its conclusion, the Committee  acknowledges that the use of challenge coins varies depending on the  organization. Although such coins have been used for many years in the military  context to reward behavior and enhance morale, they have also been used by some  organizations as proof of membership or to allow admission.  Despite this association with membership or  admission to a private club or organization, the Committee believes it unlikely  that a recipient of a challenge coin bearing the judge’s name could credibly  use the coin to convey to others that they are in a special position to  influence the judge. 

Nevertheless, the judge should exercise caution  so as not to run afoul of the Code. The Committee recommends that the judge be  mindful of the Code when selecting individuals to commend.  For example, the judge should consider  whether the selection of certain individuals   or a group of individuals for recognition might reasonably be considered  inappropriate political activity prohibited by Canon 7, or presents issues of impartiality,  lending the prestige of the judicial office, or allowing others to convey the  impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge. See Fla. JEAC Op. 94-25 (several  committee members suggested that it would be more appropriate to delete  laudatory remarks concerning the lawyers in an article to be published, or  simply refer to them as trial counsel).

In conclusion, in answering this  question in the affirmative, the majority of the Committee  advises the judge to avoid presenting challenge coins in a manner that may reasonably  be perceived to be a violation of the Code. The Committee also recommends that the judge remain vigilant to ensure that  recipients of the challenge coin are not using it in a manner that would  reflect poorly on the judge or that would cause ethical concerns for the judge,  and in the event such information comes to the judge’s attention, the judge  should re-assess the appropriateness of continuing this activity. 

 A minority is concerned

A minority of the Committee is of the opinion that the  inclusion of the judge’s name and investiture date would be perceived or  recognized as self-promotion and be demeaning to the judicial office. The  spirit of the Canons would be best served by the deletion of the name and  investiture date from the coins. The minority, otherwise, agrees with the rest  of this opinion.

(Mike Frisch)

December 11, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ticket To Remove

A non-attorney town court justice has been removed from office by the New York Court of Appeals.

The misconduct found by the Commission on Judicial Conduct involved two matters.

One was a seat belt violation charge that involved a lifelong friend whose family owneed a company where the justice had been employed. The justice accepted testimony of a ticket error (the friend claimed to be in a different Mercedes Benz than alleged) and dismissed the charges without notice of his personal connection to the defendant. He failed to notify the DA's office (which had no one present) and failed to adjourn the case.

The other matter involved an ex parte communication.

A dissent concludes that the misconduct was not serious enough to warrant removal from office. (Mike Frisch)

December 10, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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)

November 20, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)