Judges and individuals who have been nominated to be judges can request advice from the Committee on Judicial Ethics in two ways: informally and formally. All requests for advice are strictly confidential, except in the extraordinary circumstances described in SJC Rule 3:11 (6).
Informal Requests & Advice
Judges and nominees can make informal requests for advice by telephone or via email. Informal advice is given in instances when the answer to the request is reasonably clear. The Committee members will discuss the request and will typically offer advice within a few days. If time is of the essence, the Committee will consider the time-sensitive nature of the request and will attempt to give its advice as promptly as possible.
The preponderance of the Committee's business consists of informal requests and advice. However, informal advice, unlike a formal opinion from the Committee, does not provide the judge with the protection described in SJC Rule 3:11 (6).
In some cases, the Committee may deem the question presented to be such that a formal request is more appropriate. In such a case, the Committee will decline to answer the request informally and will invite the requesting judge to submit a formal request in writing.
Formal Requests & Opinions
Judges and nominees can also make formal requests by writing a letter seeking a formal opinion. The form of the request is prescribed by SJC Rule 3:11 (2) and Rule 2 of the Committee rules, both of which can be found on our website here and in West's Massachusetts Rules of Court. The letter should include all of the pertinent facts so that the Committee can properly assess the situation and provide an appropriate opinion.
The Committee issues its formal opinions in writing, typically within forty-five days of receiving a request, and publishes its formal opinions pursuant to SJC Rule 3:11 (3). Published opinions do not include the requesting judge's name or other identifying information. If the request is time-sensitive, the Committee will make every effort to issue an opinion as promptly as possible.
Judges who receive, and then take action in reasonable reliance on, a formal opinion are protected from disciplinary action even if the Committee's opinion is later found to have been erroneous. SJC Rule 3:11 (3).
Before making a request, you might wish to peruse the Committee's web page to determine whether there already exist any opinions on point. In addition to the text of the Committee's opinions, the web page also contains a variety of other information that you may find helpful, including the text of the Code of Judicial Conduct and rules governing the Committee.
Requests for informal advice and formal opinions, and any questions concerning the Committee, should be directed to:
Pamela B. Lyons, Esq.
Secretary, Committee on Judicial Ethics
John Adams Courthouse
One Pemberton Square, Suite 2500
Boston, MA 02108-1750
Phone: (617) 557-1071