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Opinion 174

The Chief Magistrate of a county in which the Child Abuse Protocol Committee established pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 19-15-2 is in the process of updating its child abuse protocol has the task of setting out in writing the role the county Magistrate Court will assume in the protocol. He notes that the Child Abuse Protocol Committee is required to have a representative designated by the Magistrate Court O.C.G.A. § 19-15-2(C)(i)(e) and further notes that said Committee conducts investigations into child fatalities pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 19-15-3.


Under these circumstances, an opinion is requested concerning the extent, if any, to which a magistrate can or should participate in the child fatality investigations in light of Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. A second request seeks advice concerning the Magistrate Court designating a representative to serve on the Committee who is not a magistrate Court Judge.

Insofar as the questions posed involve construction of the applicable statutes, they are questions for the courts and beyond the jurisdiction of the Commission. Insofar as they might involve the judicial canons, the questions are answered as follows:

Rule 3.7(A)(2)  provides in pertinent part:

Judges may serve as members, officers or directors of any organization or governmental agency devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice . . . .

Commentary [1] to Rule 3.7 goes further, noting:

To the extent that time permits, and judicial independence and impartiality are not compromised, judges are encouraged to engage in appropriate law-related activities. As a judicial officer and person specially learned in the law, a judge is in a unique position to contribute to the improvement of the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, including revision of substantive and procedural law and improvement of criminal and juvenile justice, either independently or through a bar association, judicial conference, or other organization dedicated to such improvements. 


The establishment of the Child Abuse Protocol Committee, and the composition thereof, are both mandated by statute. Its essential purpose is the discovery and prevention of child abuse. The Committee is thus clearly “an organization or governmental agency devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.” For all these reasons, and provided such service does not interfere with the proper performance of his duties, it is the opinion of this Commission that the Magistrate may appropriately set out in writing the role which the county Magistrate Court will assume in the protocol, without violating any of the provisions of Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

However, because participation by the Magistrate in child fatality investigations could conceivably cast doubt on his capacity to impartially decide issues which may well come before him and thus violate Canon 3, and because such participation could also result in frequent disqualifications and recusals by reason of Rule 2.11(A), the Commission is of the opinion that the Magistrate should not personally participate in child fatality investigations.

Because the designation of a non-magistrate to serve on the Committee would likely eliminate the above-described problems, the second question is answered in the affirmative.

[Pertinent Code of Judicial Conduct provisions:  Canon 1, Rules 1.2(B), 2.4(B), 2.8, 2.11(A), 3.7(A)(1), 3.7(A)(2), 3.1(A). Cross reference to other relevant opinions for review: #34, #70, #101, #137, #151, #152, #162, #172, #178, #179, #194, #201, #202.]

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