Opinion 144

The Judicial Qualifications Commission has been asked for an Advisory Opinion as to whether the failure of a judge to decline to pay the State Bar legislative assessment or the payment by a judge of the voluntary contribution to legal aide solicited by the State Bar would constitute a violation of Canons 3 or 4 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The propounder of the question in submitting the same states: The State Bar maintains a voluntary system for contributions to Georgia Legal Services. This money is used to fund legal services. It is a voluntary contribution. The bar dues also contain a legislative assessment solely to fund the ‘State Bar Legislative Activities’ which is built in but may be rejected. It is represented that the voluntary contribution is not used for legislative functions, but there was concern that legal services did, otherwise, have legislative activity. In addition the State Bar contribution, while voluntary, is obviously a legislative contribution which one must decline by specifically removing the assessment. Both the assessment and the contribution could be used directly or indirectly to promote lobbying.

While both the assessment and the voluntary contribution could admittedly be said to contribute, directly or indirectly, to the promotion of legislation endorsed and supported by the State Bar, neither of them is in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Rule 4.1(A)(3) which deals with this subject provides as follows:

(A) A judge or a judicial candidate for public election to judicial office shall not:. . .

(3) solicit funds for or pay an assessment or make a contribution to a political organization, or purchase tickets for political party dinners or other functions, except as authorized in Rule 4.1 (B).

Neither the payment of the State Bar legislative assessment nor the voluntary contribution to legal aide constitutes a payment or contribution to a “political organization” as that term is used in the foregoing Canon, nor do such payments violate the provisions of any other canons of the judicial code.

[Pertinent Code of Judicial Conduct provisions: Rules 3.7(A)(1), 3.11, 4.1(A), 4.1(B), 4.2(A), 4.2(B). Cross reference to other relevant opinions for review: #1, #23, #36, #81, #83, #108, #118, #124, #147, #165.]

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