Committee on Judicial Ethics
Making a Request
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 S.J.C. Rule 3:11 (6).
Informal Requests & Advice
Judges and nominees can make informal requests for advice by telephone or via e-mail. 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, by telephone, 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 S.J.C. 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 S.J.C. Rule 3:11 (2) and Rule 2 of the Committee rules, both of which can be found on our web site 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 S.J.C. 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. S.J.C. Rule 3:11 (3).
Emergency Requests & Opinions
In rare instances, two members of the Committee can dispense with the usual requirements and give advice on an emergency basis.
Internet and Intranet Sites
Before making a request, you might wish to peruse the Committee's web site to determine whether there already exist any opinions on point. In addition to the text of the Committee's opinions, the web site 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.
The web site can be reached by going to http://www.mass.gov/courts/sjc/ and clicking the link to "Judicial and Clerks' Ethics Committees."
The same information is contained on the Committee's site on the judiciary's Intranet. To visit the Intranet site, go to http://trialcourtweb.jud.state.ma.us/ and then follow the links to "Courts," "Supreme Judicial Court," and "Judicial Ethics Opinions."
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
1 Pemberton Square, Suite 2500
Boston, MA 02108-1750
Phone: (617) 557-1071