Opinion  CJE Opinion No. 2003-15

Date: 11/03/2003
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

Appointment to United Nations Panel on War Crimes, etc. in Foreign Country

You have asked for an opinion concerning the applicability of the Code of Judicial Conduct to your acceptance of an appointment from the United Nations to serve as a judge on a Special Panel for Serious Crimes in East Timor. The Special Panel for Serious Crimes (panel) has jurisdiction in East Timor over acts involving war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, sexual crimes, murder, and torture. The panel is divided into two sections, each section consisting of three judges, two from the international community and one from East Timor. Judges from Portugal, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Burundi, and Cape Verde have participated on the panel. Should you accept the appointment, you would be the first participant from the United States.

Appointments to this panel are made by the United Nations Mission in Support of East Timor. Your prior involvement in international judicial initiatives, your fluency in Portugese, and your experiences as a lawyer and a judge make you uniquely qualified for service on the panel.

No oath of allegiance or loyalty to East Timor is required of judges sitting on the panel. You have been asked to report to East Timor as soon as possible because the panel is currently short of judges and no sessions can occur without the required number of judges in place.

In accordance with the applicable provisions of the Massachusetts General Laws, you have requested and have been granted a one year unpaid leave of absence from your service as a judge in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Your request for leave has been approved by the Chief Justice of your court department and by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth. During your leave of absence, you will not be paid a salary by the Commonwealth.

The United Nations will pay you a salary plus per diem living expenses during your service as a judge on the panel. Section 4 H (1) (a) of the Code of Judicial Conduct states that your "[c]ompensation shall not exceed a reasonable amount," and that "[e]xpense reimbursement shall be limited to the actual cost of travel, food, and lodging." Section 4 H (2) requires a judge to report to the Supreme Judicial Court "on or before April 15 of each year, with respect to the previous calendar year, the date, place, and nature of any activity for which the judge received compensation, the name of the payor, [and] the amount of compensation so received."

Your service on the special panel will not involve the practice of law -- see Section 4 G -- and you will not be advising another branch of government, foreign or domestic, on matters other than the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice -- see Sections 4 C (1) and 4 C (2) and CJE Opinion 02-15. Accordingly, the committee's advice is that your service on the panel during a one year unpaid leave of absence from your work as a judge in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts does not in any way conflict with the Code of Judicial Conduct, provided that you comply with the provisions of Section 4 H.

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