January 28, 1988
NOTE: The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct were amended in 1996. Please see new Rule 100.4(C)(3)(b)(ii) (a judge may accept an unadvertised award ancillary to a not-for-profit organization’s fund-raising event). Please also see Opinion 04-141 (a judge may introduce and present an award to an honoree at a not-for-profit organization’s fund-raising dinner, provided that the judge’s presence and role as the presenter of the award are unadvertised).
Topic: Unpublicized presentation of plaque to a Judge by a civic organization at its annual dinner.
Digest: Although previously unpublicized and unannounced, the acceptance of a plaque for public service presented to a Judge by a civic association at its annual dinner would be a violation of the spirit of the rule prohibiting a judge from being a speaker or guest of honor at a fundraising event.
A Supreme Court Justice asks whether it would be proper to accept a plaque for public service from a civic association which would be presented at the association’s annual dinner without any prior advertising, announcement, photographs or other indication that such presentation is to be made and without any use of such proposed presentation in connection with the solicitation of tickets to the dinner.
The extent of a judge’s permissible participation in civic activities is set forth in 100.5 (b) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator of the Courts which, to the extent here relevant, provides as follows:
100.5(b) Civic and charitable activities. A judge may participate in civic and charitable activities that do not reflect adversely upon impartiality or interfere with the performance of judicial duties. A judge may serve as an officer, director, trustee or nonlegal advisor of an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization not conducted for the economic or political advantage of its members, subject to the following limitations:
No Judge shall solicit funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of the office for that purpose, but may be listed as an officer, director or trustee of such an organization, provided, however, that no such listing shall be used in connection with any solicitation of funds. No judge shall be a speaker or the guest of honor at an organizations’s fundraising events, but he or she may attend such events. Nothing in this Part shall be deemed to prohibit a judge from being a speaker or guest of honor at a bar association function.
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While presentation of the plaque under the circumstances here described does not, in terminology, fall precisely within the prohibition of the rule, since the recipient will not be a pre-announced speaker or guest of honor, the presentation itself at the dinner would cloak the recipient with the aura of a special honored guest and would undoubtedly, at the very least, evoke a public “thank you” response. To participate in such presentation, therefore, would constitute, albeit subtly and somewhat indirectly, permitting the use of the prestige of the judicial office for fund raising purposes. This is clearly at variance with the intent and spirit of the rule and the judge should decline to accept the plaque in that setting.
It may be observed that no similar proscription would apply to a presentation made either privately or at a non-fundraising meeting or gathering.
The Advisory Committee is aware that this Opinion represents an extreme application of the prohibition of the rule, but it feels constrained to take this position because of the rule.
This Opinion is advisory only and is not binding upon either the Office of Court Administration or the Commission on Judicial Conduct.