Opinion 133

The Judicial Qualifications Commission has been asked for an Advisory Opinion as to whether, under the circumstances, a judge can ethically serve as chairman of the Tara District of the Atlanta Area Council for the Boy Scouts of America. The judge states that when he initially agreed to serve he explicitly stated that he could not in any way participate in or allow his name or office to be used in connection with the solicitation of contributions.

Nevertheless, in a form letter addressed to a variety of people who were requested to attend a meeting the purpose of which was to solicit contributions to the Boy Scout program, both he and other council leaders attending the breakfast were named, and this followed closely on a request for assistance by way of time and money in the meeting of a goal to raise five million dollars over three years on behalf of the Boy Scouts.

The judge recognizes that the inclusion of his name in the contents of this letter was improper under the canons of judicial ethics but his problems are as follows:

1. Given the fact that he knew nothing in advance of the intent that his name would be included in such a letter, will he sufficiently meet his ethical obligations by submitting a written statement to the appropriate people in the Boy Scout organization informing them of his specific ethical restrictions and directing them not to use his name or his office in conjunction with any fund raising efforts; and

2. Given the fact that the officers of the district which he now chairs will be spending a substantial amount of their planning and organizing efforts in relation to the solicitation of contributions, is it proper for a judge to chair such an organization?

Rule 3.7(B)(2) provides in part as follows:

“Judges shall not personally solicit funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of their office for that purpose, but they may be listed as officers, directors, or trustees of such organizations.”

This canon has been dealt with and construed by this Commission in various situations in Opinion Nos. 17, 24, 37, 43, and 73. Perhaps closest in point is Opinion No. 37 in which the Commission concludes as follows:

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the Rule relates to what kind of conduct, in connection with fund raising activities, should be viewed as using or permitting the use of the prestige of his office to generate donations to the organization.

Aside from the prohibition against personally soliciting funds or being a speaker or guest of honor on a fund raising occasion, the prohibition of the use directly or indirectly of the prestige of his office for the purpose of generating donations would clearly indicate that a judge should not in any overt way participate in support of such fund raising activities, although merely being an officer of the organization or attending its fund raising events is not to be considered as using the prestige of his office for gaining donations for the organizations.

While not exhaustive, it seems to us that this would prohibit a judge as an officer of an organization from sending out solicitation letters over his signature or, as we have held in Opinion No. 24, permitting letters to be sent out on which his name appears as an officer of the organization, nor should he preside or be prominently seated at any meeting held for fund raising purposes. This would also seem to prohibit a judge from appearing on a television or radio program in which donations are solicited or making any statements to the news media in which donations are sought.

From the question as submitted, it is clear that a primary purpose of the Council, and duty of the chairman, is to solicit contributions and, in view of this fact, the Commission is of the opinion that both of the foregoing questions must be answered in the negative.

[Pertinent Code of Judicial Conduct provisions: Rules 2.4(B), 3.7(B)(2). Cross reference to other relevant opinions for review: #15, #17, #24, #37, #43, #89, #117, #138, #139, #145, #146, #161, #164, #186.]

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