Opinion 164

The Council of Juvenile Court Judges of Georgia requests an Advisory Opinion concerning five specific issues relating to the existence of and the solicitation of funds for a college scholarship established by the Council in memory of a former Executive Director. It is represented that a number of judges, family members, and friends of the deceased former Executive Director have contributed to a fund from which the scholarship was endowed and that the first scholarship will be awarded to a Georgia State University student in the fall of 1992.

The Council wishes to announce by letter, publication in professional newsletters, and in other ways the existence of the scholarship and to urge those who are interested in perpetuating the memory of the former Executive Director to make contributions to the Georgia State University Foundation for the scholarship.

However, the judges are concerned whether such conduct could be viewed as a solicitation in violation of Rule 1.3 and 3.7(B)(2) and the current Executive Director seeks answers to the following specific questions:

l. May our judges, individually or collectively, announce the existence of the scholarship and solicit contributions for that purpose?

2. If the judges are prohibited from doing this as individuals, may they take such action through the Council?

3. May I solicit contributions or announce the scholarship, or would I be prohibited from doing what the judges may be prohibited from doing?

4. Could Council stationery be used announcing the scholarship, with information about how one could contribute to it?

5. Thank you letters (from the Council) will be sent to those who have already contributed; could the letter include information about the scholarship, along with language that would welcome additional contributions?

Rule 1.3 provides in pertinent part as follows:

Judges shall not lend the prestige of their office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.

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

(2) 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. . . .

Rule 3.7(B)(2) has been dealt with and construed by this Commission in varying fact situations in Opinion Nos. 17, 24, 37, 43, 73, 133, 139, 145, 146 and 161. It is clear from these Opinions that, regardless of how worthwhile or commendable the particular endeavor may be, a judge is prohibited from participating in fund-raising activities of any kind without regard to whether the judicial position is, or is not, disclosed in the course of such activities. As stated in Opinion No. 37:

Aside from the prohibition against personally soliciting funds . . ., 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. . . .

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 . . . . 

In sum, a judge may neither solicit funds nor permit the use of his name or the prestige of his office for this purpose regardless of the objectives to be achieved.

In addition, Rule 4.2(A)(1) provides that judges “shall not allow any other person to do for them what they are prohibited from doing under this Canon.” While obviously governing campaign conduct and admittedly not directly controlling, it is nevertheless the opinion of this Commission that the same standard should be applied in the area of fund-raising activities.

Accordingly, and as thus viewed, the questions posed must be answered as follows:

1. The judges, individually or collectively, may neither announce the existence of the scholarship nor solicit contributions for that purpose.

2. The Council may appropriately announce the existence of the scholarship, but may not solicit contributions for that purpose, either directly or indirectly.

3. The current Executive Director of the Council may not do what the individual judges are prohibited from doing, and as such, should neither solicit contributions nor announce the existence of the scholarship.

4. Council stationery, bearing the names of six (6) individual judges currently holding offices on the Council and the letterhead of the Council, should not be used either to announce the scholarship or provide information about how one could contribute to it.

5. Appropriate thank you letters, including information about the scholarship, may be sent to those who have already contributed to the fund, but should not include any language “welcoming” additional contributions.

As a practical matter, it appears to the Commission that all of the above activities should more appropriately be conducted by the institution at which the scholarship is established and thus remove the otherwise obvious limitations placed on the judges by the applicable Canons.

[Pertinent Code of Judicial Conduct provisions: Rules 1.3, 3.7(B)(2), 4.2(A)(1). Cross reference to other relevant opinions for review: #15, #17, #24, #43, #89, #117, #133, #138, #139, #145, #146, #161, #186.]

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