Is it appropriate to sell tickets to a retirement party before employee leaves job?

August 10, 2012

Opinion 2012-6

Dear Register:

This is in response to your inquiry of July 31, 2012.  You are the Register of Probate in the ______ Probate and Family Court. You write that an Assistant Judicial Case Manager is retiring at the end of August this year and that "we are planning a retirement party" for the retiring employee in September.  You inquire whether it is ethically appropriate to sell tickets to the event before the employee leaves the job.  In the alternative, you ask whether it would be appropriate to have the local bar association send out a save-the-date email.  

Your inquiry does not indicate who is planning the event for the employee, who would be selling tickets, what the ticket price would be or what use would be made of the proceeds. In the absence of such details, the Committee can offer only the following general guidance on the requirements of the Code of Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Courts.  

Canon 4 of the Code requires a Clerk-Magistrate to perform the duties of Clerk-Magistrate impartially and act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judicial branch of government. Canon 4(B), Personal Affairs, prohibits a Clerk-Magistrate from engaging "in outside activities which would cast doubt on his or her capacity to decide impartially any issue that may come before the Clerk-Magistrate in any official capacity." In addition, Canon 5(C), which regulates financial activities, states that a Clerk-Magistrate "shall refrain from financial...dealings that... involve the Clerk-Magistrate in transactions with lawyers or other persons likely to come before the court in which the Clerk-Magistrate is serving."  The sale of tickets to lawyers who appear in the court where you are employed could implicate this canon.

You also asked whether it would be appropriate to have the local bar association send out a save-the-date email. This committee is authorized to provide advice only with respect to rules relating to the ethical and professional conduct of Clerk-Magistrates.  We note however that an event organized by the local bar could remove potential concerns under the Code.  

The Committee suggests that you provide additional information if you would like further advice regarding your request.