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Opinion

Opinion Opinion 2001-2

Date: 02/21/2001
Organization: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Ethical Opinions for Clerks of the Courts

Serving on law enforcement advisory board providing advice regarding distribution of federal block grant money for police department

Dear:

In your letter dated December 26, 2000, you asked the advisory committee for an opinion as to whether serving on a law enforcement advisory board providing advice regarding the distribution of federal block grant money for a police department would violate the code of professional responsibility for clerks of court.

You have told us that the police department that would use the funds is within the geographic jurisdiction of the court in which you serve. It is unclear from the facts included in your request whether or not you have any responsibilities on the criminal side of the court including, but not limited to, considering applications for criminal complaints from the police department receiving the federal funds. Because of the size of your office, the committee for the purpose of this response to your request has assumed that you do have some responsibility concerning criminal matters filed in your court. Further, as clerk magistrate, even if you do not personally handle criminal matters, you are responsible for those who do.

The committee has concluded that participation on the advisory board regarding distribution of federal funds to police within the geographic jurisdiction of the court would be a violation of Canon 4(B) for any clerk who has responsibilities, including supervisory responsibilities, on the criminal side of the court. Canon 4(B) prohibits "outside activities which would cast doubt on his or her capacity to decide impartially any issue that may come before the clerk-magistrate in any official capacity." Membership and/or participation on a committee that distributes or gives advice regarding distribution of money to police departments may cast doubt in the mind of a reasonable person of the clerk's capacity to decide without bias and impartially any issue that may come before the clerk in which police officers are witnesses or parties, e. g., almost every application for a criminal complaint.

Therefore, it is the opinion of the advisory committee that you may not participate on the advisory board.

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