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Opinion 113

The Commission is advised that the Worker’s Compensation Section of the State Bar has voted to reimburse Directors, Administrative Law Judges and staff attorneys of State Board of Worker’s Compensation for lodging expenses incurred at the October seminar of the Section and at the June meeting of the State Bar, and the Commission has been asked for an Advisory Opinion as to whether they can appropriately accept such reimbursement.

Each year the Workers’ Compensation Section sponsors a seminar in October which provides twelve hours of continuing legal education credits. At each seminar an Administrative Law Judge makes a presentation, as does the Chairman and/or the Directors. Attendance at the seminar is substantial.

The Workers’ Compensation Section also has a breakfast meeting each year at the State Bar meeting in Savannah. The Section leaders have stated that the opportunity for attorneys to socialize with the Judges, Directors and staff attorneys is helpful and is one reason that attendance at the section meeting and the seminar is good. The Compensation Board is of the opinion that the informal conversations made possible by these events is helpful.

Members of the Workers’ Compensation Section are from both the claimants’ bar and the defense bar. There are well over nine hundred members. The section has voted to assess an additional five dollar annual fee for membership in the Section to pay for the lodging expenses of the Directors, Administrative Law Judges and staff attorneys of the Compensation Board at the October seminars and the June State Bar meetings.

The question as submitted puts aside any policy or legal problem, if any, with reference to the proposed assessment and asks only for an Advisory Opinion as to whether the receipt of such reimbursement by Directors, Administrative Law Judges and staff attorneys of the State Board of Worker’s Compensation would be permissible under the Code of Judicial Conduct.

In Opinion No. 13, this Commission held that it would be inappropriate for a judge to accept an invitation from a law firm to attend a weekend outing sponsored by the law firm, but later, in Opinion No. 50, the Commission concluded that Judges could properly attend a weekend retreat in the North Georgia Mountains as guests of the Bench and Bar Committee of the Atlanta Bar Association.

In reaching its decision, the Commission made this statement and distinction:

Active trial lawyers of the Atlanta Bar will be invited on a basis which will assure a broad range of participation including practitioners from large firms, small firms, sole practitioners, women and black lawyers. All trial judges of the Atlanta trial bench (including Superior, State, District and Bankruptcy Courts) will be invited.

and further it stated:

The opinion assumes, of course, that such a program as carried out from year to year will involve not only reasonable changes in the Bench and Bar Committee, but also that, as stated in the communication to the Commission, care will be taken to assure the participation of a broad range of the trial bar. This will serve to avoid a situation in any way analogous to that involved in our Opinion No. 13.

The Commission, therefore, concludes that, subject to the assumptions and limitations above set forth, reimbursement of Directors and Administrative Law Judges for such lodging expenses would not be in violation of the Code of Judicial Ethics. Trial attorneys are not subject to the Judicial Code or the jurisdiction of this Commission and with respect to them no opinion is expressed.

[Pertinent Code of Judicial Conduct provisions: Canon 3, Rules 1.2(B), 2.4(B), 2.8, 3.13(C), 3.14, 3.15. Cross reference to other relevant opinions for review: #8, #13, #50, #66, #96, #122, #173.]

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