Opinion  CJE Opinion No. 98-13

Date: 08/27/1998
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.

Contact   for CJE Opinion No. 98-13

Committee on Judicial Ethics

Table of Contents

Serving on Community Policing Commission

You ask whether you may serve on a city's Community Policing Commission. The Commission was established in June of 1997 by an ordinance of the City Council. Under the terms of that ordinance the Commission is composed of nineteen members, generally appointed by the Mayor. Its stated purpose is "to create an organization which will assist [the city's] communities in building partnerships with the . . . Police Department and in assisting the . . . Police Department in its mission to serve and to protect and to enhance and expand community policing and problem solving efforts." See Section 2.138.040. The "work, function and purpose of the Commission . . . [is] limited" to ten specific items set out in that Section.

Your request is controlled by Canon 5(G) of the Code of Judicial Conduct which provides, in part:

"A Judge should not accept appointment to a governmental committee, commission, or other position that is concerned with issues of fact or policy on matters other than the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice."
The exception set out in Canon 5(G) was considered "necessary in order to allow jurists - who, after all, possess the most experience in administering the judicial system - to participate in state and national efforts aimed at upgrading the system of justice." Lubet, Beyond Reproach: Ethical Restrictions on the Extrajudicial Activities of State and Federal Judges, p. 28 (American Judicature Society, 1984).

Clearly, the Community Policing Commission is a governmental commission. Even if this Commission were concerned with issues surrounding "the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice," your acceptance of this appointment would be barred if the Commission were also concerned with matters beyond the scope of this exception. A review of the City ordinance indicates that the Commission has no direct involvement with "the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice." Neither the court in which you sit nor any other court is expressly mentioned in the items set out under its "work, function and purpose." None of those items relate to such matters as the processing of criminal cases, the implementation of laws related to the court system, or proposed reform in these areas. Rather, they cover such non-qualifying matters as "[i]dentify[ing] and prioritiz[ing] problems that plague communities," "[o]rganiz[ing] neighborhood groups of citizens to become activists with City officials to deter criminal activity," "[c]ultivat[ing] cooperative problem solving relationships between private and public agencies and the community," and "[m]aximiz[ing] [the city's] share of grant monies."

Generally, the Commission's focus is on the interaction between the police and various social service agencies and institutions within the community with a view toward more effective coordination of law enforcement efforts. To be sure, law enforcement efforts do have an impact upon the courts. However, facets of almost every social problem facing today's society will play themselves out in the courts. Read expansively, the exception set out in Canon 5(G) could easily swallow the rule. We do not believe that such a liberal interpretation was intended. To come within the exception, there must be a direct nexus between what a governmental commission does and how the court system meets its statutory and constitutional responsibilities - in other words, how the courts go about their business. Here, we conclude that your service on the Policing Commission, with its focus on how the police department goes about its business and on other non-qualifying activities, would be precluded by Canon 5(G).

Even if Canon 5(G) were not implicated, your service on the Commission would be problematical in view of the concerns raised in CJE Opinion No. 97-8, and CJE Opinion No. 98-9. In CJE Opinion No. 97-8, we concluded that a judge would be prohibited from accepting an invitation from the Safe Neighborhood Initiative in his area to participate in a tour of a designated part of the city. Similarly, in CJE Opinion No. 98-9, we concluded that the judge may not attend meetings of the Steering Committee of the Safe Neighborhood Initiative in his locale. Such activities were deemed to call the impartiality of the judges into question and to have the potential to convey the impression that members of the group had a special position of influence with the judges in violation of Canon 2(A) and 2(B). Your service on the Community Policing Commission would implicate these provisions in the same way. Indeed, such service would present more significant problems since in your case, you would actually be a member of the policy-making body as opposed to being merely a participant in its activities. Thus, your service could be viewed as more directly aligning you with the interests of the prosecution in criminal cases.

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