The Committee on Judicial Ethics was created in 1988, pursuant to Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3:11. The Committee is charged with providing advisory opinions and informal advice to judges and individuals nominated to be judges who seek advice with respect to the interpretation of the rules of court governing the ethical and professional conduct of judges. Currently, the five members of the Committee on Judicial Ethics are:
Hon. Raymond J. Brassard, Superior Court, Chair
Hon. Catherine P. Sabaitis, Probate and Family Court
Hon. Francis R. Fecteau, Appeals Court
Hon. Allen G. Swan, District Court
Professor Charles W. Sorenson, Jr. New England Law | Boston
The Secretary of the Committee is Pamela B. Lyons, Esq., Administrative Attorney at the Supreme Judicial Court. She can be reached by phone at 617-557-1071, or by email at: Pamela.Lyons@sjc.state.ma.us.
Whereas the Commission on Judicial Conduct is a disciplinary body that acts in response to complaints against judges and investigates reports of improper judicial conduct, the Committee on Judicial Ethics is strictly an advisory body, providing formal advisory opinions in writing and informal oral advice by telephone.
The Supreme Judicial Court rule creating the Committee and the rules of the Committee itself are reproduced in these materials. The rules deal primarily with the process by which the formal, written opinions of the Committee are obtained -- both regular opinions and emergency opinions. A judge who seeks and receives a formal opinion from the Committee and then follows a course of conduct in reliance on that opinion is protected from disciplinary action, even if the Committee's opinion should later turn out to have been erroneous. The Committee's formal opinions are published, in redacted form so that the identities of the requesting judges cannot be ascertained, on the website here . All judges in Massachusetts are notified by email of the issuance of the new opinion.
Although the committee has issued many formal, written opinions in the years since its inception, the bulk of the Committee's work consists of giving informal, oral advice by telephone. Informal advice is commonly given when the answer to the question is reasonably clear under the Code or when an existing formal opinion of the Committee covers the point. Where the answer to an informal request is unclear, the Committee will so advise the requesting judge and suggest to him or her that a definitive answer, and the protection that a definitive answer provides, is available by seeking a formal opinion.
Only a judge, a person who has been nominated to be a judge, or, with respect to compliance with Section 6A(2), a judge who has retired or resigned from judicial office, may make a request. Other than the very limited exceptions set forth in Rule 3:11 (6), all requests for opinions and advice are kept strictly confidential.