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Opinion 96

A judge has asked whether it would be improper for him to accept from a lawyer, without charge or cost, a title search and title opinion.

Rule 3.13(A) provides as follows:

(A) When Always Prohibited — Judges shall not accept a gift or similar benefit if:

(1) its acceptance is prohibited by law; or

(2) its acceptance would appear to a reasonable person to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality. 

Subsection (D) provides guidance as to when it is appropriate for a judge to accept a gift. In relevant parts and notwithstanding Rule 3.13 (B) and (C), judges may accept the following without reporting such acceptance:

(1) Invitations to the judge and the judge’s spouse, domestic partner, intimate partner, or guest to attend without charge or with reimbursement of expenses:

(a) an event associated with a bar-related function or other activity relating to the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice; or

(b) an event associated with any of the judge’s educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic activities permitted by this Code, if the same invitation is offered to non-judges who are engaged in similar ways in the activity as the judge.

(2) Gifts incident to a public testimonial to the judge.

(4) Ordinary social hospitality, including reciprocal socializing in which meals, lodging, recreational activities, tickets, or similar benefits are provided or paid for both by the judge and a friend or group of friends in substantially equal total amounts over a period of time. 

(8) Books, magazines, journals, audiovisual materials, and other resource materials supplied by publishers on a complimentary basis for official use. 

Additionally, subsection (C) provides: When the source does not have interests before the judge as a party or other person, including a lawyer, who has come or is likely to come before the court, the judge may accept a gift or similar benefit, unless prohibited by Rule 3.13 (A). If the same source provides gifts or similar benefits exceeding, in the aggregate, $500 in the same calendar year, the acceptance of all of those gifts or similar benefits must be reported under Rule 3.15. 

The question does not state the amount involved and, for that reason, it is not possible to tell whether it would be substantial, but the acceptance of such gratuitous services from an attorney, might at best create an implied or apparent obligation on the part of the judge and Canon 1 provides:

Judges should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all their activities.

For these reasons, it could be inappropriate for the judge to accept without cost a title search and opinion from an attorney.

[Pertinent Code of Judicial Conduct provisions: Rules 1.2(B), 2.4(B), 2.9(A), 3.13(D)(1), 3.14, 3.15. Cross reference to other relevant opinions for review: #8, #13, #50, #113, #159, #169, #173.]

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