Opinion  CJE Opinion No. 2001-9

Date: 06/01/2001
Organization: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

After the Committee on Judicial Ethics issued this opinion, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court adopted a revised Code of Judicial Conduct. Because this opinion was rendered under a prior version of the Code, a judge should not rely on it without contacting the Committee on Judicial Ethics.

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Committee on Judicial Ethics

Table of Contents

Serving as Trip Chaperone at Reduced Cost

You have informed the Committee that you have been asked to serve as a chaperone on a tour of England that a High School Band, Orchestra and Choir has planned for the 2002 spring vacation. The trip will cost each student $1,500. Chaperones will be required to pay $400. You have asked whether the reduced fare charged to chaperones constitutes permissible "compensation for extra-judicial activities" or a permissible "gift" as the quoted terms are used in the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Your request provides additional detail about the forthcoming trip. The students will be accompanied by the School's music directors as well as by the chaperones. School policy requires one adult chaperone for every ten students. Chaperones have defined duties, among them to oversee the care and well-being of the students during the tour, to assist in the setup and breakdown of performances and to insure that trip participants abide by the town's Public School rules and regulations. Your wife, who works in the School's Fine Arts Department, will act as a chaperone on the trip even if you do not. In addition, your daughter, who will be a senior at the School next year, will be on the trip playing in the Band and singing in the Choir.

Each student is responsible for funding his or her own travel. As stated, each will be charged $1,500 for the trip. The difference between the cost of each chaperone's trip and the $400 each chaperone will pay - and the Committee assumes that there will be a difference - will come from the $1,500 student payment. Whether the difference is classified as income or as a gift, you plan to report it as part of your annual report to the Supreme Judicial Court of extrajudicial income and gifts.

Finally, the School and the students plan a variety of fund-raising exercises so that the students can raise some of the money they need to pay for their trips and for the trips of students who could not otherwise afford to participate in the tour. Fund-raising revenues also will be used to pay common trip expenses. You will have no role whatsoever in any fund-raising efforts.

Against that backdrop, the Committee is of the opinion that the difference between the cost of your trip and the $400 you will pay is not a gift. Gifts are customarily defined as "something voluntarily transferred from one person to another without compensation." Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary 517 (Merriam 1987) (The Committee uses the dictionary definition of the terms because the Canons should not be interpreted in a narrow or technical sense but instead should be interpreted and applied in accordance with general usage and meaning of the words they contain.) The same source defines compensation as "something that constitutes an equivalent or recompense." Id. at 268. In your case, the cost reduction is produced by your commitment to provide the trip organizers with "compensation" in the form of the chaperone services discussed above.

The Committee is also of the opinion that the fare reduction, again for purposes of the Code, is "income," i.e., "gain . . . that derives from labor." Id. at 610. The question thus becomes whether the Code permits your receipt of the "income" represented by the difference between $400 and the cost of your trip. Provided that you report it, the Committee is of the opinion that the answer is "yes."

Canons 6 and 5 contain the provisions from which the Committee derives its answer. Canon 6 specifies that "[a] judge may receive compensation and reimbursement of expenses for the quasi-judicial and extra-judicial activities permitted by this Code, if the source of such payments does not give the appearance of influencing the judge in his judicial duties or otherwise give the appearance of impropriety" and provided, among other things, that the judge reports the income to the Supreme Judicial Court as part of his or her annual report of extra-judicial income.

Canon 5(A) provides in part that "[a] judge may . . . engage in the arts, sports, and other social and recreational activities, if such avocational activities do not detract from the dignity of his office or interfere with the performance of his judicial duties." Canon 5(B) states, again in part, that "[a] judge may participate in civic and charitable activities that do not reflect adversely upon his impartiality or interfere with the performance of his judicial duties."

In the Committee's view, the chaperone services you have described fairly can be characterized either as participation in the "arts" or as participation in "civic and charitable activities." In either event, Canon 5 permits those services and, because it does, Canon 6 allows you to receive "income" for performing them as long as you report that income, as you plan to, to the Supreme Judicial Court.

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