Separation of Judiciary From Fund-Raising Events

March 9, 1989

CJE Opinion No. 89-3

You have requested the advice of this committee concerning the application of the Code of Judicial Conduct (SJC Rule 3:09) to a fund-raising event proposed for the benefit of a Massachusetts college of which you are a graduate. The event is being advertised to potential ticket purchasers as "A Tribute to Justice" honoring the college's seven graduates who are judges. You and the other six judges (three of whom are, like you, judges of the Massachusetts Trial Court) are listed with their years of graduation. You indicate that this is a fund-raising event, that similar events, honoring graduates of the college in other walks of life, have been held in recent years, and that "[t]he primary function is not to have the dinner to honor the individual or individuals; that it is more in the nature of a side event or entertainment." Attendance in the past has been in the order of 180 to 200 persons, who are, predominantly, alumni, spouses, and trustees, although members of the general public are also free to purchase tickets. The brochure advertising the event also invites contributions from persons who will be unable to attend.

The Code of Judicial Conduct is quite specific in demanding a separation of members of the judiciary from charitable fund-raising events. Canon 5(B)(2) states:

A judge should not solicit funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of his office for that purpose, but he may be listed as an officer, director, or trustee of such an organization. He should not be a speaker or the guest of honor at an organization's fund-raising events, but he may attend such events [emphasis added].

The committee is of the opinion that the proposed fund-raiser must be regarded both as using the prestige of the honorees' judicial offices for a charitable fund-raising purpose and as treating those persons as guests of honor at such an event in violation of the proscriptions of Canon 5(B)(2). The fact that the primary purpose of the event is not to honor the judges but to raise funds for the college may arguably be relevant to the application of the testimonial dinner law, G.L. c. 268, §9A (see 1963 Op. A.G. 110; 1966 Op. A.G. 369), but it brings the event squarely within the strictures of Canon 5(B)(2). The focus of the Canon is on fund-raising events for worthy causes. It prohibits any use of prestige of a judge's office for such a purpose.

The committee realizes that this fund-raising event has been organized by others for a manifestly laudable purpose and that your participation would apparently be passive in nature. Canon 5(B)(2), however, imposes on you an affirmative obligation not to permit the use of the prestige of your judicial office for a charitable fund-raising purpose. It is therefore important that you disassociate yourself from the event, perhaps by informing the organizing committee of the requirements of Canon 5(B)(2), as outlined in this opinion, with a request that they take some appropriate action to inform those persons who received the advertising brochure that you have requested that they remove your name from the list of honored guests. If the organizing committee should fail to honor such a request, it would be inappropriate for you to attend the event yourself.