Related to:

Opinion Opinion 97-1

Date: 01/10/1997
Organization: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Ethical Opinions for Clerks of the Courts

Acceptance of campaign contribution from Probate and Family Court litigant while running for Register of Probate


This is in response to your request for the Committee's opinion as to whether the acceptance of a $500 contribution by your campaign committee would violate the Code of Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Courts. At the time of your request, you were the of the Probate Court and were running for the position of Register of Probate. On Friday, October 25, 1996, you called the Secretary of this Committee and relayed the following facts, seeking an immediate response from the Committee.

Your campaign committee had received $500 from a contributor who was also the plaintiff in a case before the Probate Court. The case in which the contributor was involved had been tried in August, 1996 and, at the time of the contribution, was under advisement by the Probate Court judge. Your opponent in the election for the position of Register of Probate is the attorney representing the defendant in the case in which your campaign contributor is involved. He sought a new trial on the basis of the contribution, alleging that it presented a conflict or the appearance of a conflict of interest.

On Monday, October 28, 1996, the Secretary called to inform you that she had contacted the members by telephone, and on the facts presented, the members saw no violation of the Code in your committee's accepting the contribution. Since the Probate Court case in which the contributor was involved was under advisement by the judge, the committee saw no way in which you actually could or could give the appearance of influencing the outcome of the litigation. [See Canon 4(A) "Appearance of Impartiality" and 4(B) "Personal Affairs".]

This letter confirms the advice which you were given orally by the Secretary. The Committee finds no violation of the Code in your campaign committee's retaining the contribution since you would not be involved in the matter pending before the Probate Court. We remind you that our opinion relates only to the Code of Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Courts. We make no comment on statutes or other rules or regulations that may bear on this issue.


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