Appointment to Task Force Concerning Admission Criteria for Public School

October 8, 1996

CJE Opinion No. 96-4

You have asked for advice whether you may accept appointment to a task force established by the Boston Public School Committee to review the admission criteria for Boston Latin School. You are the parent of two children who attend the school.

In our Opinion 89-4, we advised that a judge should not accept appointment to the Governor's Commission on Alcoholism and Prevention of Substance Abuse. We relied on Canon 5(G) which provides: "A judge should not accept appointment to a governmental committee, commission, or other position that is concerned with issues of fact or policy on matters other than the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice." We concluded that service on the Governor's Commission would involve the judge in substantive policy-advising within the executive branch and that that was prohibited by Canon 5(G). Service on the task force reviewing admission standards for Boston Latin also involves advising on important policy-making issues of a nonjudicial branch of government and, in the opinion of the Committee, falls within the proscription of Canon 5(G).

It is true that Canon 5(B) provides that a judge "may serve as an officer . . . or nonlegal advisor of an educational . . . organization not conducted for the economic or political advantage of its members. . . ." It seems to us that reading that section together with Canon 5(G) would permit service as a nonlegal advisor to a private educational institution but not a public institution. The policies of both sections of Canon 5 would be served by such a reading.

Even if we are not correct in that reading, however, Canon 5(B) contains a limitation on advising an educational institution that applies to the situation you present. Canon 5(B)(1) states: "A judge should not serve if it is likely that the organization will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before him or will be regularly engaged in adversary proceedings in any court." The Boston School Committee has been regularly engaged in court proceedings relating not only to the general subject matter of admissions criteria to its schools but is currently engaged in such proceedings with respect to the particular subject matter on which you would be giving advice.

For all these reasons, therefore, our conclusion is that the Canons do not allow you to serve on the task force.