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Opinion 201

An opinion is requested on the following issues:

l. Should a sitting juvenile court judge participate in the Family Violence Protocol Task Force for the judicial circuit in which the judge serves?

2. Should a judge adopt the Model Judicial Protocol for Family Violence Incidents as proposed by the Georgia Commission on Family Violence?

Accompanying this request is a copy of a 15-page document entitled “A Model Judicial Protocol for Family Violence Incidents by The Georgia Commission on Family Violence” (hereinafter “the Model”).

Ga. L. 1992, p. 1810, § 1 (O.C.G.A. §§ 19-13-30 et seq.) is the statutory authority for establishing a Community Task Force on Family Violence in each judicial circuit in this State. These task forces, in turn, “shall be supported by and work in collaboration with the State Commission on Family Violence.”

Limited judicial participation in organizational meetings looking solely toward the formation of community task forces on family violence was authorized in Opinion No. 194. However, the factual setting here presented appears to go beyond the limited participation authorized in Opinion No. 194 and raises issues of concern.

In Opinion No. 115, this Commission found judicial service on an advisory panel of a community organization created to establish protocols for police intervention in domestic violence cases to be inappropriate. Among the objectives of that organization was the establishment of prosecutorial standards and sentencing alternatives in domestic violence cases.

In the instant case, even a casual reading of the proposed Model, and especially Section II thereof, evidences an attempt to encourage judges to “advocate” certain positions and to be “proactive” in others. (See § II(A) and (B)). In addition, the Model outlines in some detail exactly how judges should conduct hearings, set bail, issue protective orders, accept civil settlements, defer prosecutions, reduce charges, dismiss cases, issue ex parte orders, and handle sentencing. The foregoing language suggests that the State Commission proposing adoption of the Model is in reality much like the community organization involved in Opinion No. 115.

As noted in Opinion No. 115:

… the Commission has consistently held that a judge should not become personally associated as an activist with particular causes which relate to issues which may come before such judge in a judicial capacity (See Opinion No. 78). . . .

This Commission continues to be of the same opinion and, accordingly, feels that judicial participation in the formulation, distribution and/or dissemination of actual protocols for use by judges would be inappropriate.

However, this conclusion does not preclude limited participation by judges in certain aspects of the work of either the State Commission or the local Task Force. As noted in Opinion Nos. 174 and 178, and consistent with the underlying purpose of Rule 3.4, limited judicial service on governmental agencies “devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice” has generally been permitted in this State.

In this instance, the establishment of both the State Commission and the local Task Force is mandated by statute. Such organizations were created by the General Assembly with the following language:

… an effective response to family violence will require a comprehensive community effort as well as coordination among the courts, prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, and public assistance and other service providers. . .

and thus are clearly organizations coming within the parameters of Rule 3.4.

As thus viewed, and provided that such service does not otherwise interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties, or cast doubt on their capacity to impartially decide issues coming before them, it would be appropriate for judges to participate in certain limited aspects of the work of such organizations. Without attempting to exhaustively define such authorized participation, the Commission is of the opinion that activities such as offering expertise and knowledge; teaching, speaking and presenting information designed to educate the public as to the underlying purposes and efforts of the local task force; and accurately relating the role of judges in the court system would be permissible.

With respect to question 2, the Commission declines to instruct judges concerning the adoption of the Model proposed by the Georgia Commission on Family Violence. However, it is noted that numerous provisions of the Model appear to invade the province of the judiciary, and enforcement thereof could easily lead to ethical, as well as legal, challenges. As with many materials available to judges, the proper use of the materials is for education, not prejudgment.

[Pertinent Code of Judicial Conduct provisions: Rule 3.4. Cross reference to other relevant opinions for review: #78, #115, #174, #178, #194.]

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