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Opinion CJE Opinion No. 92-4

Date: 12/31/1992
Organization: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

The following is an archived advisory opinion of the Committee on Judicial Ethics (CJE) from the time period of 1989 through 2014, and the Code of Judicial Conduct that was in effect from October 1, 2003 to December 31, 2015. Archived advisory opinions also include the Code that was in effect through September 30, 2003. The Supreme Judicial Court adopted a new Massachusetts Code of Judicial Conduct, effective on January 1, 2016. A judge should not rely on any pre- 2016 CJE Advisory Opinion without contacting Supreme Judicial Court Senior Attorney Barbara F. Berenson, counsel to the Committee on Judicial Ethics, at or 617- 557-1048.

Being Named Man of Year, with Dinner and Program Book

You have requested the advice of this Committee about the propriety of permitting yourself to be named as man of the year by your synagogue when that honor entails a dinner with a program book dedicated to you. The proceeds from the program book are to be used, as is customary, to help balance the synagogue's budget. You report that you are being honored for five years' service as president of the synagogue and not for being a judge and, if we so advise, neither the tickets nor the program book will mention that you are a judge.

Canon 5(B) provides:

        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. A judge may serve as officer, director, trustee, or nonlegal advisor of an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization not conducted for the economic or political advantage of its members, subject to the following limitations: .     . .

        (2) A judge should not solicit funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization, or use or permit the prestige of his office for that purpose, but he may be listed as an officer,director, or trustee of such an organization. He should not be a speaker or the guest of honor at an organization's fund-raising events, but he may attend such events.

We understand that the argument for allowing the dinner event to proceed in its normal course is that the event is a regular event that honors whoever is president of the synagogue. The program book that raises funds for the synagogue is a usual incident of the event and you would not be treated differently from any other past president in connection with that event. If it is permissible for you to be president, and it is, then it ought to be permissible for you to be treated the same way other presidents are treated, especially if you are not identified as a judge in any of the literature.

We have concluded, however, the Rules are to the contrary. The thrust of the Rule is to keep judges away from the fund-raising aspects of a charitable organization while permitting them to render charitable service. The program book is an integral part of the dinner and the dinner is therefore a fund-raising event. Thus, you would be the "guest of honor at an organization's fund raising event []," in violation of Rule 5(B)(2).

 It is also possible that the scenario you outline would violate another aspect of Rule 5(B)(2), the part that prohibits a judge from permitting the use of the prestige of his office in connection with a fund-raising event. The argument would be that virtually everyone at the synagogue must know that you are a judge. While many people who contribute to the program book will be honoring only your service to the synagogue, others, especially lawyers and those involved in other ways with the judicial system, cannot help but view you in both capacities. The Rule does not permit a judge to shed his judicial capacity, and so it might be said that the only question is whether this is a fund-raising event. If it is, on this reasoning, then your association with it in the manner described would violate the Rule. While the Committee leans in the direction of approving this argument, we need not, and therefore we do not, decide the issue in answering your inquiry since our first stated ground seems quite clear to us.


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