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Opinion 15

A Superior Court judge, who is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Judicial College of Georgia on behalf of the Trustees has requested an opinion concerning several items involving the activities of such College. The Judicial College of Georgia is an institution recently established by the Georgia Judicial Council to have responsibility for continuing judicial and legal education for the judges of all courts of record in this State, including, by way of example, educational programs dealing with substantive rules of law, court procedure, and court administration. It is recited in the request for the opinion that the College is without sufficient funds to operate adequately and desires guidance and direction with respect to the solicitation of funds from various charitable foundations, lawyers and other sources from which such funds might be forthcoming, and the use thereof by the College.

The specific opinions requested at this point include (a) whether or not it would be proper for the judicial members of the Board of Trustees to solicit such funds, (b) whether or not the non-judicial members of the Board (two attorneys, members of the State Bar of Georgia) and other lawyers may solicit such funds, (c) whether or not it would be proper for the organized bar to undertake the solicitation and raising of funds for the purpose of education of the judiciary as conducted by the College, (d) whether or not it would be proper to solicit and receive contributions, either directly from individual lawyers or through the offices of the State Bar or to use the assets of the Georgia Bar Foundation for this purpose, and (e) any other opinions the Commission would deem appropriate regarding this general area.

There are a number of provisions of the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct which the Commission feels are relevant to the inquiries made and they will be mentioned in the course of the various aspects of the opinions expressed. The various questions posed will not be discussed herein separately in the order as recited above but all will each be dealt with in the course of this opinion.

At the outset and in the way of a preamble to this Opinion the Commission is of the view that the pursuit by judges of so-called continuing judicial education is a worthwhile endeavor and commendable as being in furtherance of Canon 2 of the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct which provides that a judge should perform the duties of his office impartially and diligently.

While Rule 3.7, which deals with quasi-judicial activities, does not specifically mention attendance at continuing judicial education programs, the Commission feels that subparagraph A of Rule 3.7 which sanctions a judge’s participation “activities concerning the law, the legal system,and the administration of justice” does impliedly approve such participation.

The threshold question, as the Commission sees it, must be whether or not it would be proper for judges to accept expenditure of contributions from foundations, lawyers and possibly others to partially defray the expenses of the operation of the College and to reimburse the judges for their expenses incident to their attendance at programs sponsored by the College. Rule 3.13(D)(1)(a) states judges may accept without reporting such acceptance “[i]nvitations to the judge and the judge’s spouse, domestic partner, intimate partner, or guest to attend without charge or with reimbursement of expenses,” including events “associated with a bar-related function or other activity relating to the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.”  

Based on this provision of the Code, it is the opinion of the Commission that judges may in propriety receive the benefits, including expenses for their attendance at continuing judicial education programs, of contributions by charitable foundations and the like since such foundations are fairly infrequently involved in litigation and are generally known and recognized as making contributions to worthwhile causes without expectation of gain or benefit by such charitable foundations. Moreover, the Commission feels it would not be improper for the College to receive contributions from the Georgia Bar Foundation for such purposes because the assets of such Foundation are owned by the State Bar of Georgia as such and are not identified with any particular individual lawyer or law firm. 

On the other hand, the Commission feels that gifts or contributions to this cause by individual lawyers known to the judges as making such contributions for their benefit might run the risk of there appearing to be the acceptance of a gift calculated to reflect adversely on the judge’s impartiality (Rule 3.11(B)). Rather it is the Commission’s view that it would be a better approach for the State Bar as such to establish a system, as a part of its regular activities, under which voluntary contributions could be made by individual lawyers to a fund for the benefit of the Judicial College but without disclosure of the names of the individual lawyers or firms actually making such contributions. Further, the Commission feels that this effort should be identified with the general programs of the State Bar of Georgia rather than with individual lawyers who might be serving on the Board of Trustees of the College for the same reasons as stated above.

As to the question posed concerning the propriety of solicitation by the judicial members of the Trustees of the College, the Code of Judicial Conduct makes it clear, both with respect to quasi-judicial activities (Rule 3.7(A)) and with respect to extra-judicial activities (Rule 3.7(B)(2)), that a judge should not personally participate in public fund raising activities or personally solicit funds for such respective purposes.

To summarize, it is the opinion of the Commission:

(1) That it is permissible for the Judicial College of Georgia to use funds contributed or donated by charitable foundations and other philanthropic nonprofit organizations to aid in defraying the expenses of its operations designed to furnish continuing judicial and legal education for judges in this State.

(2) That the same is true with respect to contributions by individual lawyers and law firms provided the names of such lawyers and law firms are not disclosed to the judges, and it further being the opinion of the Commission that it would be better for the solicitation plan for such funds to be a part of the regular program of the State Bar of Georgia and not carried on by individual lawyers in their own name.

(3) That there would be nothing improper in the use by the College for the purposes discussed herein of funds contributed by the Georgia Bar Foundation, but the Commission, of course, expresses no opinion as to whether the Foundation can or should make such contributions.

(4) That funds so contributed as dealt with above and also as might be obtained from any other proper source could be used to defray the expenses of judges attending the programs of the College, provided the restrictions and reporting requirements (if applicable) of Rule 3.15 of the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct are observed.

(5) That judges themselves should not personally participate in any way whatever in the fund raising activities dealt with herein.

[Pertinent Code of Judicial Conduct provisions: Rule 1.2(B), 3.7(A), 3.7(B), 3.11(B), 3.13(D)(1)(a), 3.15. Cross reference to other relevant opinions for review: #37, #133, #139, #161, #164, #186.]

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