2013-26 (June 18, 2013)
Extrajudicial Activities; Promoting Public Confidence
May a Judicial Official assist with the organizational effort to establish Connecticut’s first Family Justice Center created to provide a full range of services to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence?
The Center for Women and Families of Eastern Fairfield County (“CWFEFC”) is in the process of establishing Connecticut’s first Family Justice Center (“FJC”), a “one stop shop” for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The Connecticut FJC plans to offer all the services victims need to become survivors, such as advocacy, shelter placement, case management, counseling, safety, education and employment planning, emotional support and childcare when receiving services. The Connecticut FJC will provide community collaboration with police, prosecutors, community-based advocates and social services and will be patterned after the first center that opened in San Diego, California in 2002 and the FJC in Brooklyn, New York. Funding for the Connecticut FJC has been provided, in part, by the Michael Bolton Charities. The Connecticut FJC will be housed in CWFEFC’s headquarters in Bridgeport and will serve victims in Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull.
Reported outcomes of FJCs include: reduced homicides; increased community support services; increased victim safety; reduced recantation and minimization by victims; reduced fear and anxiety for survivors and their children; increased autonomy, empowerment and self-sufficiency for survivors; increased prosecution of offenders; and reduced costs by co-location/streamlining the process.
Response: Rule 1.2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that 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. 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.”
Although the goals of the FJC are laudable, the organization appears to be heavily one-sided in nature. Based upon the facts presented, including the victim-centered focus of the FJC, the composition of its membership (which lacks defense representation) and its potential for advocacy, the Committee determined that the Judicial Official should decline to assist with the organizational effort because it would cast doubt on the Judicial Official’s impartiality in violation of Rule 1.2. In rendering this opinion, the Committee considered its prior opinions in JE 2012-25 (judicial official should not accept an award from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, one of the largest victim services organization in the U.S.) and Emergency Staff Opinion JE 2012-29 (judicial official should not accept award from a victim support and advocacy group that regularly appears in court on behalf of victims of domestic violence), as well as opinions from two other jurisdictions. See New York Opinion 06-108 (judge should not serve as a member of a Domestic Violence Task Force that includes no defense representation), New York Opinion 00-54/00-56 (judge should not participate with law enforcement agencies in a domestic violence project that excludes defense representation), New York Opinion 99-46 (judge should not serve as a member of a Domestic Violence Community Coordinating Council, which engages in vigorous advocacy on behalf of domestic violence victims) and Florida Opinion 98-8 (judge should not belong to a victim’s rights council because it would cast a reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge).