Opinion 97

A Chief Magistrate has asked for an Advisory Opinion as to whether it would be inappropriate for him to become a stockholder in a corporation which is being organized to operate a collection agency. The corporation would bring actions in his court, but the Chief Magistrate would disqualify himself and would not be involved either as judge or as an attorney. The case would be handled by other Magistrates. He states that he would be a passive stockholder and would not be involved in active management of the collection agency.

Rule 3.1(A) provides as follows:

Rule 3.1 Participation in Extra-Judicial Activities

(A) Judges shall not engage in extra-judicial activities that detract from the dignity of their office or interfere with the performance of their judicial duties.

(C) Judges may engage in extra-judicial activities, provided that doing so will not interfere with proper performance of judicial duties or cast doubt on their capacity to impartially decide any issue.

Rule 3.7(B) authorizes judges to participate in civic and charitable activities but subject to stated limitations, the first of which is that:

(a) judges shall not serve if it is likely that the organization will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before them;

From the question, it is clear that the proposed collection agency will be an active litigant in the court where the Chief Magistrate presides, and that the proposed solution will be his disqualification in what may be a substantial number of cases. This is exactly what is proscribed in Rule 3.7(B) above and, therefore, the question must be answered in the negative. Moreover, the special relationship between the Chief Magistrate and this collection agency will be well known, not only to the other Magistrates, but to the public as well and Canon 1 provides,

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

As the commentary on this Canon states:

Judges must therefore accept restrictions on their conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen, and they should do so freely and willingly.

[Pertinent Code of Judicial Conduct provisions: Rules 1.2(B), 2.4(B), 3.1(A), 3.7(A), 3.7(B). Cross reference to other relevant opinions for review: #21, #28, #32, #61, #82, #102, #114, #160, #168.]

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