Opinion  CJE Opinion No. 98-2

Date: 03/19/1998
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. 98-2

Committee on Judicial Ethics

Table of Contents

Accepting Award from Association Representing Service Providers

You have asked this Committee's advice concerning the propriety of your acceptance of an award from a private association that represents many alcohol and drug service providers. For the reasons discussed herein, the Committee advises you not to accept the award.

The written material submitted with your letter states that the association is a "trade association representing providers of alcoholism and drug abuse services in Massachusetts." The association conducts "aggressive lobbying" of state and federal government agencies to establish policy and obtain funding for substance abuse treatment providers. This organization also offers educational and other support services to member organizations. The association has selected you as a recipient of its annual Community Service Award. In the association's letter notifying you of the award, its executive director states, "You were selected for this award because of your strong defense of the right of individuals battling addictions to live in the community. We in the field of substance abuse prevention and treatment services are very grateful for your protection of the rights of individuals we serve."

Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in part:

"(A) A judge . . . should conduct himself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

"(B) A judge should not allow his family, social, or other relationships to influence his judicial conduct or judgment. He should not lend the prestige of his office to advance the private interests of others; nor should he convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence him. . . ."

The association's letter to you indicates that the award honors you for decisions you apparently made in sentencing certain defendants with substance abuse problems. Your acceptance of an award which is bestowed to honor you for what the association's nominating committee evidently perceives as your sentencing philosophy in some cases involving defendants with substance abuse problems could cast doubt on your impartiality in similar cases in the future. Additionally, the acceptance of this award would tend to lend the prestige of your office to advancing the interests of substance abuse providers in their involvement with criminal defendants who appear before you. Moreover, the acceptance of this award may convey the impression that the association is in a special position to influence you. (For application of Canon 2 (A) and (B) in other factual contexts, see CJE Opinion Nos. 91-2, 90-2 and 96-1.)

Although the material submitted to the Committee does not reveal whether the association is a charitable organization, it would not make a difference in our opinion based on the circumstances presented here. Canon 5 (B) provides that a judge may participate in civic and charitable activities only if those activities do not reflect adversely upon the judge's impartiality or the performance of his judicial duties. Acceptance of the association's award would reflect adversely upon your impartiality in future cases where the targeted goals of the association and its members are a factor under consideration in the sentencing of a criminal defendant.

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