Serving on Board of Directors for consortium that is responsible for a shelter for the homeless and a shelter for battered women.

July 13, 1999

Opinion 99-4   


In your letter dated March 22, 1999, you asked for an advisory opinion as to whether you may become a member of the Board of Directors of the                                  You explained that this consortium is responsible for a shelter for the homeless and for a battered women's shelter. As a board member, you would be responsible for voting on personnel and policy matters.

In response to a request from this Committee, you provided us with additional information concerning both the consortium and your duties as assistant clerk. You stated that the shelter for the homeless and the battered women's shelter are all located within the geographical jurisdiction of the district court where you are an assistant clerk. There are no other battered women's shelters within the jurisdiction of that court. You noted that clients of the battered women's shelter have appeared before your court, although not in significant numbers. You state that as an assistant clerk, you have no role in the issuance of orders under G.L. c. 209A. You further state that it would be rare for you to participate in a show cause hearing concerning the issuance of orders under G.L. c. 209A because a violation of such an order is a mandated arrest.

The provisions of Canons 4 and 5 of the Code of Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Courts are relevant to your inquiry. Under Canon 4 (A), "A Clerk-Magistrate shall not convey the impression that any person is in a special position to influence the Clerk-Magistrate, and the Clerk-Magistrate should discourage others from suggesting that they are in a position to exert such influence." Canon 5 (B) provides, in part, that "A Clerk-Magistrate may participate in civic and charitable activities that do not reflect adversely on the Clerk-Magistrate's impartiality or interfere with the performance of his or her official duties.... (1) A Clerk- Magistrate shall not participate if there is a substantial likelihood that the organization, or a significant number of members of the organization, will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the Clerk-Magistrate or the court in which the Clerk-Magistrate serves."

The Committee is concerned that your service on the Board of Directors of the consortium could convey the impression that the consortium or the clients of its homeless and battered women's shelters would be in a special position to influence you or, through you, others in the court where you work. You have indicated that, although not in significant numbers, members of the battered women's shelter have appeared before your court. When these cases occur, your service as a Board member setting policy would identify you with the interests of the Board, its personnel and its clients, and may give rise to the impression that the court would not be impartial in these matters. Since the consortium and the shelters are within the jurisdiction of your court, your service as a Board member could implicate your impartiality as an assistant clerk and the impartiality of the court in any matters involving the consortium or its clients.           

The members recognize the benefits to the organizations and to the community of service of the type that you contemplate. For the reasons stated above, however, the Committee concludes that your service on the Board of the consortium would not be appropriate under the Code.

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