The Atlanta Bar Association, through its Bench and Bar Committee, proposes to annually sponsor a Bench and Bar Conference Retreat to be held on a weekend at a resort in the North Georgia mountains patterned after such a project which has for some years been put on by the Kansas City Bar Association. Active trial lawyers of the Atlanta Bar will be invited on a basis which will assure a broad range of participation including practitioners from large firms, small firms, sole practitioners, women and black lawyers. All trial judges of the Atlanta trial bench (including Superior, State, District and Bankruptcy Courts) will be invited. Room, board and registration charges will be financed by the Bar Association mainly from the registration fee paid by each attending lawyer, and it is anticipated that in years to come the Bench and Bar Retreat could be subsidized out of general revenues of the Association.
It is estimated that roughly one-half of the Retreat would be dedicated to recreation and relaxation in order to provide an opportunity for judges and trial lawyers to interact on a personal level, and that the remaining activities will be reserved to discussions of topics which may be of concern to the trial bench and bar.
The Commission has been asked for its opinion as to whether the acceptance by the judges of an invitation to such an affair as guests would offend the provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
One of the principal objectives of the Code of Judicial Conduct is the maintenance of an independent and impartial judiciary.
However, while a judge’s conduct is “the subject of constant public scrutiny,” and is subject to restrictions in keeping with the objects of the Code (Commentary , Canon 1), it does not follow that in upholding these high and necessary standards, a judge must live in isolation. On the contrary, the Code recognizes, within reasonable limitations, that a judge may participate in quasi-judicial (Canon 3) and extra-judicial (Canon 3) activities. In keeping with a judge’s duty to “be faithful to the law and maintain competence in it” (Rule 2.4(A)), a judge is expressly permitted to “speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice” (Rule 3.7(A)(1)) and it is also recognized that a judge and the judge’s spouse may accept an invitation “to attend bar-related functions or activities devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.” (Rule 3.13(D)(1)(a))
We view the Bench and Bar Conference Retreat as described above as an activity falling within the foregoing permitted activities of a judge.
The opinion assumes, of course, that such a program as carried out from year to year will involve not only reasonable changes in the Bench and Bar Committee, but also that, as stated in the communication to the Commission, care will be taken to assure the participation of a broad range of the trial bar. This will serve to avoid a situation in any way analogous to that involved in our Opinion No. 13.
[Pertinent Code of Judicial Conduct provisions: Rules 1.2(B), 2.4(C), 2.8, 3.13(D)(1), 3.14, 3.15. Cross reference to other relevant opinions for review: #8, #13, #96, #113, #173.]