Opinion  CJE Opinion No. 2002-1

Date: 01/29/2002
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

Participating in Activities of Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers

You have requested advice as to the propriety of your participation in certain activities of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

You state in your letter that:

"The Academy was founded in 1962 and has more than 1,500 fellows nationwide. At the present time, there are 73 fellows who belong to the Massachusetts Chapter including 12 present or former Probate and Family Court Judges . . . . The stated purpose of the Academy is '[t]o encourage the study, improve the practice, elevate the standards and advance the cause of matrimonial law, to the end that the welfare of the family and society be preserved.' Fellows of the Academy seek to further these goals on both the local and national level by, among other things: (1) educating the bar and the judiciary in matrimonial law through programs sponsored entirely by the Academy and by strategic educational partnerships with other organizations such as bar associations and law schools; (2) encouraging the ethical practice of matrimonial law through adherence to the Academy's statement of ethical standards; (3) developing . . . opportunities for Academy fellows to participate on a voluntary basis in public service programs such as the Lawyer for the Day Program; and (4) promoting communication and the free exchange of ideas between members of the bar and members of the judiciary concerning issues faced by the Probate and Family Court."

 You have been asked by the Massachusetts Chapter of the Academy to serve on its Committee on Public Service and on the Haskell Freedman Award Committee. The Haskell Freedman Award is given to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the field of family law.

 You have also been asked to participate from time to time in legal education seminars for lawyers and judges sponsored by the Academy alone or co-sponsored with other organizations.

 Canon 4 of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that a judge "may speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in activities concerning the law, the legal system and the administration of justice." (Canon 4[A]). Furthermore, a judge "may serve as a member, officer, or director of an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice." (Canon 4[C]). Such participation helps to keep the judge in contact with the world around him and makes his expertise available in an effort to improve the law. See Thode, Reporter's Notes to Code of Judicial Conduct 76 (ABA 1973).

 Canon 4 further provides, however, that a judge may engage in these law related activities only "if in doing so he does not cast doubt on his capacity to decide impartially any issue that may come before him." (Canon 4). The impartiality standard would, for example, prevent a judge from participating as a member or officer of a partisan legal organization that champions some special interest in litigation that may be heard in the court in which the judge sits.

 While the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers has a special interest in family law, it is not a partisan legal organization. It is a merit organization open to all who meet the criteria of the Academy. The Academy does not favor any particular category of litigants within the area of family law. In contrast, see CJE Opinion No. 91-2, where we advised a Probate and Family Court judge that she may not serve on an advisory committee being established by the Coalition for Battered Women.

 Accordingly, our advice is that your participation as a speaker or panelist in educational programs sponsored by the Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers presents no conflict with the Code of Judicial Conduct so long as your participation is free of any implied or expressed commitment to causes that may come before the courts for adjudication.

 The Public Service Committee of the Academy promotes volunteer service in programs like the Lawyer for the Day Programs operating in many Probate and Family Courts. Your letter makes it clear that your role on this committee will be limited to attending meetings and providing consultation and advice rather than seeking to recruit attorneys for specific public service projects. Furthermore, you state that your name would not be used to solicit the involvement of attorneys in such public service projects. Subject to those limitations, your participation on the Public Service Committee is permitted under the Code of Judicial Conduct. With respect to your service on the Haskell Freedman Award Committee, you note in your letter that the committee, in addition to selecting the recipient of the award, "makes arrangements for the dinner at which the award is presented" and arranges "for a keynote speaker or other presenter."

 Your participation in decisions concerning the dinner is not precluded by the Canons. However, your name or position should not be associated with the promotion of the dinner. This is particularly important if the dinner is a fund-raiser for the Academy, i.e., the price of the ticket exceeds the actual cost of the dinner. Canon 5(B)(2) states that a judge should not solicit funds for any civic organization or use or permit the use of the prestige of his office for that purpose.

 Refraining from any involvement in the promotion of the dinner is no less important if the dinner is not a fund-raiser. Many, if not most, of those solicited to attend the dinner will be attorneys. "Participation in . . . solicitation . . . by a judge is problematic when it involves individuals likely to appear before the court on which the judge serves." CJE Opinion No. 97-7. Furthermore, such solicitation may reasonably be perceived as coercive given the nature of your position and the position of those most likely to be solicited.

 Concerns may be raised with regard to the selection of a speaker or award recipient. If a person under consideration for selection as a speaker or for receipt of an award is an attorney likely to appear before you, our advice is that you not participate or allow your name or position to be used in soliciting the individual to speak and that you not participate in selecting the award recipient. Compare CJE Opinion No. 98-5 where we advised that judges could ask an attorney to speak at a ceremony honoring the hundredth anniversary of a court, but cautioned against judges making such requests of lawyers who may practice before them when the judges are not making the requests in their judicial role but as leaders of a "legal" organization.

 In summary, subject to the limitations discussed herein, our advice is that you may participate as a speaker or panelist in educational programs sponsored by the Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers; you may become a member of the Academy's Committee on Public Service; and you may become a member of the Academy's Haskell Freedman Award Committee.

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