Accepting "Man of the Year Award"

October 26, 1999

CJE Opinion No. 99-10

You have asked for this Committee's advice with respect to the propriety of accepting a "Man of the Year Award" conferred by a charitable organization at its annual dinner. From your letter, the Committee understands that the organization's annual dinner is not a fund-raising event and that the cost of the ticket covers only the cost of the event. You have not requested that anyone attend this dinner nor have you sold tickets to this event.

Canon 5 (B) of the Code of Judicial Conduct states, in part, that "A judge may participate in civic and charitable activities that do not reflect adversely on his impartiality or interfere with the performance of his duties." There is no indication that the organization in question is engaged in proceedings before you or is regularly engaged in adversary proceedings in the courts. Thus the strictures of Canon 5 (B) (1) are inapplicable to your participation in the organization's annual dinner. Because the dinner is not a fund-raising event and it does not bear the indicia of such an event, the prohibitions of Canon 5 (B) (2) are likewise inapplicable. (See CJE Opinion No. 95-8 for circumstances where acceptance of an award given by a non-profit organization would violate Canon 5, regardless of whether the event was a fund-raiser.)

Although you reference only Canon 5 in your request, Canon 2 must be considered as well. Canon 2 provides, in part:

"(A) A judge . . . should conduct himself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

"(B) A judge should not allow his family, social or other relationships to influence his judicial conduct or judgment. He should not lend the prestige of his office to advance the private interests of others; nor should he convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence him."

Based on the information you provided to the Committee, your acceptance of the award from this charitable organization does not run afoul of Canon 2 (B). As the Committee stated in CJE Opinion No. 98-17: "There appears to be no danger of this donor organization conveying the impression that it occupies a position of special influence over you as a result of your receipt of this award." Nor does the acceptance of the award call into question the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and thus it does not fall below the level of conduct required of a judge, as set forth in Canon 2 (A). (Contrast: CJE Opinion No. 98-2, where acceptance of an award from an organization would call into question the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and convey the impression that the organization was in a special position to influence the recipient of the award. There the award was to "honor [the judge] for what the association's nominating committee evidently perceive[d] as [his] sentencing philosophy in some cases involving defendants with substance abuse problems," and, therefore, it "could cast doubt on [his] impartiality . . . in the future.")

Accordingly, it is the opinion of the Committee that you may accept the "Man of the Year Award" from the charitable organization referenced in your request.