Related to:

Opinion Opinion 2013-4

Date: 08/08/2013
Organization: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Ethical Opinions for Clerks of the Courts

Serving as chairperson of fund-raising event

Dear Ms. :
In your letter attached to an email  of July 3, 2013, you request an opinion from the Advisory Committee on Ethical Opinions for Clerks of Courts on the following situation. You are the Clerk Magistrate of the ________Court. You have been a member of the Board of Directors of __________, since 1977.  _____________, is a non-profit corporation which provides residential and vocational services for people with disabilities. You served as its President before being appointed Clerk-Magistrate.  

___________, is in the process of forming a capital campaign to raise approximately two million dollars for the purpose of erecting a learning center and outreach program for people with autism in the community. You have been asked to Chair the fund raising campaign for _______. For the most part, your responsibilities will involve planning and organizing the solicitation of funds by others. However, you anticipate that you will approach some people for donations, and state that you will comply with Canon 5 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. You do not anticipate that any of the potential donors will have business in the _______ Court, but you would recuse yourself from any involvement if there were a potential for conflict. It is the Committee's understanding that you will not be compensated for your work on the fund raising campaign.

You request the Committee's opinion as to your ethical responsibilities.

Paragraph (B) of Canon 5 of the Code of Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Courts addresses the subject of a Clerk-Magistrate's involvement in civic and charitable activities. Subject to the following limitations such participation is generally permissible as long as the activities "do not reflect adversely on the Clerk-Magistrate's impartiality or interfere with the performance of his or her official duties:

"(1) A Clerk-Magistrate shall not participate if there is a substantial likelihood that the organization, or a significant number of members of the organization, will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the Clerk-Magistrate or the court in which the Clerk-Magistrate serves.

(2) A Clerk-Magistrate may solicit funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization, but shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of the office for that purpose or solicit his or her staff for that purpose... A Clerk-Magistrate may attend but, except for an elected Clerk-Magistrate, shall not be a speaker or the guest of honor at an organization's fund raising event. . ."

In the opinion of the Committee, provided that you comply with the provisions of Canon 5 set forth above, and the requirement of Canon 3 that Clerk-Magistrates devote the entire time during normal court hours to the duties of their office, the Code would not prohibit you from serving as Chairperson of the fund raising event. See Opinions 2005-5, 1994-12 . Consistent with Canon 5, there should be no reference to your position as Clerk Magistrate in any of the fund raising materials or activities.  Further, given that you would be serving as Chair of the fund raising campaign, should any of the individuals from whom you are aware that the organization has solicited or is soliciting money appear in the court where you work, the Committee advises you to consult and comply with the provisions of Canon 4 (E) on Disqualification which requires that a Clerk Magistrate disqualify herself from serving in an adjudicative capacity "in a proceeding in which the Clerk Magistrate's impartiality might reasonably be questioned."


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