The Commission has been asked for an opinion as to the propriety of a Justice of the Peace (1) soliciting claims; (2) receiving claims, whether or not solicited, and acting in the fashion of an ordinary collection agent or agency; and (3) issuing summonses out of the court of the Justice of the Peace on those claims which the Justice of the Peace has not been able to otherwise collect.
The Commission is of the opinion that each of the acts described in (1), (2), and (3) of the foregoing paragraph is improper and constitutes A violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Rule 1.2(B) of the Code of Judicial Conduct states in part that “Judges shall participate in establishing, maintaining, and enforcing high standards of conduct, and shall personally observe such standards of conduct so that the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary may be preserved.”
Rules 1.1 and 1.2(A) provide that “Judges shall respect and comply with the law” and “shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary,” respectively.
Rule 1.3 provides that “Judges shall not lend the prestige of their office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.” Rule 2.4(B) provides that “Judges shall not permit family, social, political, financial, or other interests or relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment. Rule 2.4(C) states “Judges shall not convey or enable others to convey the impression that any person or organization is in a position to influence the judge.”
Rule 2.11(A) provides that “Judges shall disqualify themselves in any proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned . . . .”
The act of solicitation within itself tends to destroy the integrity and independence of the judiciary since in such situations the Justice of the Peace impliedly puts himself in the position of representing the creditor.
In acting as a collection agent, the Justice of the Peace is not performing any judicial act connected with his office, but in so doing necessarily uses the prestige of his office to advance the private interests of others. This is a clear violation of Rule 1.3.
Even if it would be proper for a Justice of the Peace to act as a collection agent, which as stated we do not think is true, it would nevertheless be a clear and further violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct for the Justice of the Peace, after an unsuccessful effort to collect to thereupon issue a summons on the debt since, in such circumstances, his impartiality could reasonably be questioned and thus cause the Justice of the Peace to be disqualified under Rule 2.11(A).
It is the Commission’s view that the function of a Justice of the Peace is simply to receive claims with respect to which a creditor then desires to have a summons issued out of the Justice of the Peace court.
[Pertinent Code of Judicial Conduct provisions: Canon 1, Rules 1.2(B), 2.4(B), 2.11(A), 3.11. Cross reference to other relevant opinions for review: #28, #70, #97, #160, #168.]