2015-06 (Emergency Staff Opinion issued March 18, 2015)
Extrajudicial Activities; Promoting Public Confidence
Rules 1.2, 2.4 & 3.7
Issue:May a Judicial Official attend a reception and concert as the guest of a municipal official and the Center for Family Justice?
Additional Facts: The invitation was from the Mayor, whom the Judicial Official knows. The reception is by invitation only. According to the Mayor’s office, the Center for Family Justice is co-hosting the event in name only – they are not contributing financially to the event.
The value of the tickets was estimated at $50 each by the municipality, which receives a block of tickets free of charge for each event held at the venue where the concert is being held. (Ticket resellers are charging approximately $140 per ticket.)
According to its Facebook page, The Center for Family Justice’s mission is as follows: “The Center for Family Justice is dedicated to strengthening women and families and to eliminating violence and abuse through education, intervention, advocacy, and community collaboration.” The company overview states “The Center for Family Justice, Inc. offers advocacy and crisis services, clinical services geared towards all individuals impacted by domestic abuse (violence) and sexual abuse (violence/rape crisis).” It further notes that it services all such victims, regardless of gender. Their website notes that annually their staff provides the following services:
- Answers more than 950 calls on a 24-hour crisis hotline;
- Assists with the civil and criminal court processes for more than 2,500 survivors of domestic violence;
- Responds to more than 500 survivors of sexual assault and their families;
- Provides a safe home for more than 100 women and children fleeing domestic abuse;
- Coordinates the investigations of more than 170 cases of child sexual and severe physical abuse, developing service plans for the young survivors and their families;
- Provides psycho-educational support to more than 1,200 survivors of domestic violence, planning for their safety and promoting self-sufficiency.
- Educates approximately 4,000 members of the community about the issues of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse to prevent future violence and spread the word that about the services we offer at The Center for Family Justice.
- Teaches more than 2,000 children and teens about building healthy relationships, bullying prevention and dating violence.
Relevant Code Provisions: Rules 1.2, 2.4, and 3.7.
Rule 1.2 states that a judge “should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the … 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 2.4 (c) states that a “judge shall not convey or permit others to convey the impression that any person or organization is in a position to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment.”
Rule 3.1 states that a judge may engage in extrajudicial activities, except as prohibited by law, however, a judge shall not participate in activities that, inter alia, (1) will interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties, (2) lead to frequent disqualification, or (3) appear to a reasonable person to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity or impartiality.
Rule 3.7 states that subject to Rule 3.1, a Judicial Official may participate in activities sponsored by organizations or governmental entities concerned with the law, the legal system or the administration of justice, and those sponsored by or on behalf of educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organizations not conducted for profit, including but not limited to the following activities: … “(4) appearing or speaking at …and permitting his or her title to be used in connection with an event of such an organization or entity, but if the event serves a fund-raising purpose, the judge may participate only if the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.” Comment (3) to said Rule states that mere attendance at an event, “whether or not the event serves a fund-raising purpose, does not constitute a violation of subsection (a) (4).”
In JE 2013-26, at issue was whether a Judicial Official could assist with the organizational effort to establish a Family Justice Center, which is now the co-sponsor of the invitation that the Judicial Official received in this inquiry. In JE 2013-26, the Committee determined that the Judicial Official could not assist with the organization of the Family Justice Center because the organization was partisan (having a victim-centered focus), the fact that the composition of its membership lacked any defense representation, and its potential for advocacy. The Committee noted that assisting with the organizational effort would cast doubt on the Judicial Official’s impartiality in violation of Rule 1.2.
Now that the Center for Family Justice has been established and is operational, it is clear that the Committee’s concern about the potential for advocacy was well founded. As noted in the Center for Family Justice’s Facebook page and website, it offers advocacy services.
Based upon the facts that the reception is by invitation only and co-sponsored by an advocacy group that provides services to victims of court-involved clients, and that the event does not concern the law, the legal system or the administration of justice, the Judicial Official was advised that the Judicial Official was prohibited by Rules 1.2 and 2.4 from accepting the invitation to attend the reception and concert as a guest of the Mayor and the Center for Family Justice, however, consistent with Comment (3) to Rule 3.7, the Judicial Official may purchase his or her own ticket and attend the concert.