Opinion 13

The Judicial Qualifications Commission has been asked for an opinion as to the propriety of a judge accepting an invitation of a law firm to attend an out-of-state, weekend outing sponsored by the firm.

It is assumed that the members of, and associates in, the law firm extending the invitation practice in the judge’s court.

Notwithstanding the fact that such an invitation is extended in good faith without any purpose of influencing the judge; nevertheless, the Commission feels that the acceptance of such an invitation would offend the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The fundamental principle relating to the conduct of judges is stated in the title to Canon 1 to the effect that, “Judge Shall Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in All of Their Activities.”

In connection with this subject, the Commentary [2] states: “Judges must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny. Judges must therefore accept restrictions on their conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen, and they should do so freely and willingly.”

Rule 3.13(D) includes provisions that deal in a general way with the subject of gifts and favors tendered to a judge. These provisions provide a judge may accept without reporting such acceptance:

(1) Invitations to the judge and the judge’s spouse, domestic partner, intimate partner, or guest to attend without charge or with reimbursement of expenses: (a) an event associated with a bar-related function or other activity relating to the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice;

(2) Gifts incident to a public testimonial to the judge.

(4) Ordinary social hospitality, including reciprocalsocializing in which meals, lodging, recreational activities, tickets, or similar benefits are provided or paid for both by the judge and a friend or group of friends in substantially equal total amounts over a period of time.

(5) Commercial or financial opportunities and benefits, including special pricing and discounts, and loans from lending institutions in their regular course of business, if the same opportunities and benefits or loans are made available on the same terms to similarly situated persons who are not judges. 

(8) Books, magazines, journals, audiovisual materials, and other resource materials supplied by publishers on a complimentary basis for official use.  

Additionally, Rule 3.13(C) provides:

When the source does not have interests before the judge as a party or other person, including a lawyer, who has come or is likely to come before the court, the judge may accept a gift or similar benefit, unless prohibited by Rule 3.13 (A). If the same source provides gifts or similar benefits exceeding, in the aggregate, $500 in the same calendar year, the acceptance of all of those gifts or similar benefits must be reported under Rule 3.15.

The basic rule is stated in Rule 3.13(A) of this rule as a prohibition; namely, that a judge should not accept a gift, bequest or favor, and then there are listed several exceptions. It does not appear to the Commission, however, that the invitation here involved clearly falls within any of these exceptions. While Rule 3.13(D)(4) recognizes the right of a judge to accept “ordinary social hospitality,” and while, as the Code otherwise recognizes, a judge “should not become isolated from the society in which he lives” [see the commentary to Rule 3.1]; nevertheless, a line must be drawn between what is the usual hospitality generally accorded by lawyers to judges by personal invitations to social functions held in their homes, and the like, on the one hand, and weekend vacations, on the other.

[Pertinent Code of Judicial Conduct provisions: Rules 1.2(B), 2.4(B), 3.13(A), 3.13(C), 3.13(D), 3.14, 3.15(A). Cross reference to other relevant opinions for review: #8, #50, #96, #113, #173.]

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