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Opinion Opinion 92-3

Date: 04/05/1992
Organization: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Ethical Opinions for Clerks of the Courts

Involvement with sibling's campaign for position of town clerk.

Dear Clerk:

By letter dated March 13, 1992 you posed the following two questions to the Advisory Committee concerning your involvement in your sister's campaign for the position of town clerk:

"May my name alone, (i.e. without court title) appear in a "Political Advertisement" ad as being the person who paid for the ad?"

"[M]ay I make telephone calls during off hours to people listed as registered voters asking for their support at the polls for my sister?"

With respect to the first question, it is the opinion of the Committee that the use of your name in a political advertisement for your sister's campaign would violate Canon 6 of the Code of Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Court. This canon requires those covered by its provisions to "refrain from political activity". More specifically, paragraph (2) of Canon 6, provides that, except for elected clerks and registers, those covered by the Code shall not "make speeches for a political organization or candidate or publicly endorse a candidate for public office". The appearance of your name in a political advertisement for your sister's campaign would constitute a public endorsement of her candidacy in violation of this provision.

With respect to your question concerning making telephone calls during non work hours seeking support for your sister's candidacy, it is the opinion of the Committee that if you identify yourself by name or your position as first assistant register, making such telephone calls would constitute the type of political activity which you are required to refrain from engaging in by the general language of Canon 6.

The Committee also discussed your letter of March 17, 1992 with its attachments. You request the Committee's opinion concerning the appropriate corrective action to be taken by a newspaper which had published a newspaper advertisement which erroneously used your name as the person who sponsored the advertisement. You submitted to the Committee a letter of correction which you received from the newspaper in which the newspaper acknowledged its error in using your name as the endorser of the advertisement. You ask whether the Committee feels it is sufficient for you to have a letter of correction from the newspaper instead of a published correction notice.

The question of the appropriate action to be taken by the newspaper in these circumstances is not within the jurisdiction of this Committee, which is charged with rendering advisory opinions with respect to the interpretation of the canons contained in the Code of Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Court. However, in reviewing the correspondence which you submitted, the members agreed with your observation that your requiring a published correction notice to appear in the newspaper would only serve to call more attention to a situation for which you were not responsible.


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