2014-19 (October 16, 2014)
Gifts; Ordinary Social Hospitality; Rules 1.2, 2.11 & 3.13
Issue:A close family friend of a Judicial Official owns a vacation home in a condominium complex. The complex has some vacant units that it makes available, on a rental basis, to unit owners for their family and guests (hereinafter, “rental unit”). The Judicial Official and his/her family have been invited to spend a week at the condominium in one of the rental units at the same time as the family friend. The Judicial Official plans to reimburse the friend for the full rental cost of the rental unit. The friend may have contracts with the State of Connecticut, but to the best of the Judicial Official’s knowledge, the friend does not have any contracts with the Judicial Branch. The Judicial Official indicated that if the friend or his/her business appeared before the Judicial Official, the Judicial Official would recuse himself or herself. May a Judicial Official accept an offer to stay in rental unit if the Judicial Official pays the cost of the rental?
Response: Rule 1.2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct states that a judge “should 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. The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge violated this Code or engaged in other conduct that reflects adversely on the judge’s honesty, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge.”
Rule 2.11 of the Code states a judge “shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned….”
Subsections (a) and (b) of Rule 3.13 provide the following:
- A judge shall not accept any gifts, loans, bequests, benefits, or other things of value, if acceptance is prohibited by law or would appear to a reasonable person to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality.
- Unless otherwise prohibited by law, or by subsection (a), a judge may accept the following without publicly reporting such acceptance:
…(2) gifts, loans, bequests, benefits, or other things of value from friends, relatives, or other persons, including lawyers, whose appearance or interest in a proceeding pending or impending before the judge would in any event require disqualification of the judge under Rule 2.11; (3) ordinary social hospitality…
Based upon the facts presented, including that (a) the offer is from a close family friend, (b) the Judicial Official plans to recuse himself or herself if the friend or his/her business appears before him/her, and (c) the Judicial Official plans to reimburse the friend for the cost of the rental, the Committee unanimously determined that the use of the rental unit should be viewed as “ordinary social hospitality.” As such, the Judicial Official may accept the offer subject to the following conditions:
- The recusals are infrequent and do not interfere with the orderly processing of the court’s business; and
- The proposed hospitality is consistent with the social hospitality that the Judicial Official and his/her family have extended to their friends.
Furthermore, as noted in Rule 3.13, the Judicial Official need not report the receipt of ordinary social hospitality. In reaching its decision, the Committee took into account its prior opinion in JE 2009-04 (Judicial Official and his/her family may accept an invitation to spend several days with another couple, with whom they are close family friends, both of whom are lawyers, at the friends’ vacation home, subject to various conditions. The Committee determined that two families vacationing together at one of the family’s home is part of ordinary social hospitality).
Committee on Judicial Ethics