Accepting funds from law firms and merchants, placing them in a non-interest bearing account in your name, and disbursing the funds to underwrite prizes for student participants in court's annual Law Day program.

July 13, 1998

Opinion 98-8

Dear:

You have requested an advisory opinion from this committee as to whether you may place funds donated by law firms and merchants, who regularly appear before you in your capacity as clerk-magistrate, in a non-interest bearing account in your name and thereafter disburse such funds to underwrite prizes for student participants in the court's annual Law Day program.

It is the committee's view that there is no prohibition in the Code regarding the above actions. Canon 4(D) specifically allows a clerk-magistrate "to engage in activity to improve the law, the legal system or the administration of justice."

However, the Code in several places [4(A), 4(B), 5(B)(1)] also exhorts clerk-magistrates to refrain from any activity that might cast doubt on the clerk-magistrate's capacity to decide impartially any issue that comes before the clerk-magistrate. In light of these exhortations and the likelihood that donors to the fund that is used to underwrite prizes regularly appear before you as attorneys and litigants, the committee suggests that in the future, in order to preserve completely the appearance of impartiality, an individual from outside the courthouse, or perhaps the local bar association, take on this responsibility.