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Opinion CJE Opinion No. 98-18

Date: 09/29/1998
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 Honored by Bar Association

You ask whether you may be honored at a bar association event. You are a former president of that organization, having so served when you were in private practice. The event will raise funds that will be used for the Association's "many programs and projects to promote legal, economic, and social justice for women and their families." The cost to attendees will be $150 per person (although you will attend as a guest).

You will not be the keynote speaker at the event, nor will you receive the award annually made by the Association, which will be presented that night. You will, however, be honored along with all the other past presidents. In this regard, the past presidents will be recognized and asked to come on stage. Their photographs together with biographical sketches will appear in the program which will also be projected on a large viewing screen. The solicitation mentions that all past presidents will be so honored, but does not name them, stating only that they include "many prominent Massachusetts [persons]."

Various provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct have potential application to a judge's participation in an organization's fund-raising event. For example, Canon 5(B)(2) provides that:

"A judge should not solicit funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civi[c] organization, or use or permit the use of 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 guest of honor at an organization's fund raising events, but he may attend such events."

Canon 4(C) provides, in part, that a judge

"may serve as member, officer, or director of an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice. He may assist such an organization in raising funds and may participate in their management and investment, but should not personally participate in public fund raising activities."

Finally, Canon 2(B) provides, in part, that a judge "should not lend the prestige of his office to advance the private interests of others." This more general provision will potentially apply whenever judges allow themselves to be used by any type of organization as a draw in its fund-raising activities.

We need not resolve whether the Bar Association falls under Canon 5(B)(2) or Canon 4(C) since your attendance and recognition at the event would not be barred by either provision. You are not scheduled to speak at the event, and there is a named individual being honored with the Association's annual award. While we do not read Canon 5(B)(2) as applying only where the judge is the sole guest of honor, your being recognized along with many others for your prior service as a president of the Association does not make you a guest of honor within the meaning of that provision. Generally, your contemplated role would be sufficiently limited in nature so as not to constitute personal participation in the Association's public fund-raising activities and thereby run afoul of Canon 4(C). Finally, we conclude that you are not "lend[ing] the prestige of [your] office" to this fund-raising effort where you are not named in the solicitation letters, where these letters do not even allude to the fact that any of its past presidents are judges, and where your inclusion in this category has nothing to do with your status as a judge.

We add one final caution. Your invitation from the Association states that while you are being invited as a guest, the Association is "hopeful that [its event] will be supported by family and colleagues alike." Doubtless these words were drafted with past presidents other than judges in mind, because, as you know, for a judge to encourage court personnel or many others to attend would be inconsistent with Canon 2(B)'s admonition "not [to] lend the prestige of [your] office" to the event.


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