Opinion CJE Opinion No. 99-17

Date: 12/20/1999
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

Accepting Award at Fund-raiser

You request the advice of this Committee concerning your acceptance of an honor from a local Boys and Girls Club designating you as its first recipient of an award to be given each year to a female member of the community "who displays outstanding vocation and volunteer leadership." The award is to be given in conjunction with a holiday auction held each December to benefit the club. Last year, the auction raised more than $50,000.00 for the club and organizers have set a goal of raising $100,000.00 at the 1999 auction. The organizers, aware of your position as a judge, have carefully excluded your name and title from their literature advertising the event.

The Code of Judicial Conduct is specific in addressing the issue raised by your inquiry. Canon 5(B)(2) states:

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

The exclusion of your name and title from all literature advertising the event alleviates possible concerns about your lending the prestige of your office to the fund-raising project. In Opinion 98-18, we stated that a judge was not lending the prestige of her office to a fund-raiser by attending a bar association function at which all of its past presidents, including that judge, would be recognized where she was not named in the solicitation letters, where the solicitation letters did not allude to the fact that any past presidents were judges, and where her inclusion in this category had nothing to do with her status as a judge. In that opinion, however, we also determined that the judge involved was not a "guest of honor" as contemplated by Canon 5(B)(2).

It is clear, however, that acceptance of the award described in your inquiry would place you in the category of a "guest of honor" [Compare Opinions 89-3, 92-4, and 98-18. See also Pennsylvania Advisory Opinion 14 (an award recipient is a guest of honor) and New York Advisory Opinion 94-16 (a judge may not receive an award in recognition of his interest in and support of children at a fund-raising dinner held by a charitable foundation)].

Since the auction is clearly a fund-raising event, the last sentence of Canon 5(B)(2) is directly on point, "He should not be a . . . guest of honor at an organization's fund raising events."

While your acceptance of the award at the auction is precluded by the Canons, there is no prohibition on your acceptance of the award at a Boys and Girls Club event that is not a fund-raiser. Generally speaking, a charitable function is considered a fund-raiser if the guests are requested to donate money or if the tickets are priced to exceed the cost of the function. [See, for example, New York Advisory Opinion 88-66 (a judge may attend a dinner sponsored by the Boy Scouts at which she is given an award if the tickets for the event are not priced to cover substantially more than the cost of the dinner) and Rhode Island Advisory Opinion 84-2 (a judge may accept an award from a local civic group where the price of the dinner covers only expenses)].

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