Opinion  CJE Opinion No. 99-6

Date: 02/22/1999
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.

Contact   for CJE Opinion No. 99-6

Committee on Judicial Ethics

Table of Contents

Serving on Board of Overseers of S.J.C. Historical Society

You ask whether you may serve on the Board of Overseers of the Supreme Judicial Court Historical Society. As stated in its Annual Report,

"The Historical Society was established in 1990 to advance scholarship and public appreciation of the history of the Supreme Judicial Court. An educational trust, it seeks to communicate through educational programs, exhibits, and publications the distinguished role the Court has played in the development of law and society in Massachusetts and the nation. Its membership is comprised of lawyers, academicians, and members of the general public. The Society is a not-for-profit 501 (c)(3) organization and is supported primarily by dues and charitable income."

You state that the Society "is governed by three trustees and its mission is advanced by a volunteer Board of Overseers which can number as many as sixty members. The Overseers each serve a three year term and elect to assist the work of the Society in various ways, most usually working within the Society's committee structure to further the editorial, program planning, membership development, or fund-raising work of the organization." You understand "that members of the Board of Overseers who are members of the judiciary will not be asked to involve themselves in the Society's membership development or fund-raising activities, nor will their names appear on Society stationery." However, on the last page of the Society's forty-five page Annual Report, there is "A Note Concerning Gifts and Bequests," which states that gifts and bequests to the Society are tax deductible, which recommends language to be used in such a bequest, and which gives the name and telephone number of a person to contact to discuss a gift or bequest. The names of the members of the Board of Overseers are listed elsewhere in the Report. Your inquiry is controlled by Canon 4 of the Code of Judicial Conduct which allows "[a] judge, subject to the proper performance of [her] judicial duties," to engage in certain "quasi-judicial activities, if in doing so [s]he does not cast doubt on [her] capacity to decide impartially any issue that may come before [her]." Specifically, Canon 4(C) provides:

". . . [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. [S]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. [S]he may make recommendations to public and private fund granting agencies on projects and programs concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice."

In view of the Society's purpose and activities, it would come within the ambit of Canon 4(C) and you could serve on its Board of Overseers subject to the restrictions set out in that provision. With respect, generally, to fund-raising activities on behalf of a Canon 4(C) organization, we refer you to CJE Opinion No. 95-4, a copy of which is enclosed. In that opinion we stated that while a judge's name "may appear on the letterhead and literature generally used by [Canon 4(C)] entities, it should not appear on letters and other materials used exclusively for fund-raising." In view of the length of the Society's report and the broad range of items in it, we would not consider it "used exclusively for fund-raising" merely on the basis of the one page "Note" discussed above.

Contact   for CJE Opinion No. 99-6

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