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Opinion Opinion 2003-5

Date: 06/04/2003
Organization: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Ethical Opinions for Clerks of the Courts

Attending dinner dance for recently elected state representative

Dear Clerk-Magistrate:

This is in response to your letter of April 29, 2003 requesting an opinion from the Committee. In your letter, you inquire whether your attendance at a dinner dance for your recently elected state representative would be a violation of Canon 6 of the Code of Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Courts. You are the Clerk Magistrate of the Division of the District Court. Your letter included the following details about the event in question. You state that "[t]he tickets being sold are for a dinner/dance fund-raiser" and that the representative will not be announcing re-election at this time, nor will there be signs at the event asking those attending to vote for the representative. You further note that you "would not be making a speech and the candidate is not announcing his re-election. It is not an election year."

Because the event was occurring on May 3, 2003, you required a quick response from the Committee. On May 2, 2003, the Secretary of the Committee called you with the views of the members she was able to contact. In the view of those members, a Clerk-Magistrate's attendance at a political event is governed by the Committee's prior opinions on this subject. With respect to attendance at political events, the Committee has stated that "[a]ttendance at dances, testimonial dinners, or other social events that are the primary function where some fundraising may occur has to be weighed by each Clerk-Magistrate on the merits of the occasion and the potential message that the Clerk-Magistrate's attendance will broadcast." Opinion 90-1 .

By this letter, the Committee confirms the response that was provided by the Secretary. Canon 6 of the Clerk's Code requires that Clerks, other than elected Clerks, refrain from political activity. In particular, Clerks are prohibited from soliciting funds, making speeches or publicly endorsing a candidate. In deciding whether attendance at a political event is appropriate under Canon 6, a Clerk must consider whether the purpose of the event is chiefly political and therefore the Clerk's attendance would be viewed as a public endorsement of the political figure, or whether there is some other purpose for the event.

In the view of the Committee, if there are no additional reasons for the dinner/dance fundraiser that would allow your attendance to be viewed as something other than support or endorsement of a political figure, your attendance at the event would not be appropriate under Canon 6.


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