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Connecticut Committee on Judicial Ethics
Informal Opinion Summaries

2013-24 (June 6, 2013)
Promoting Public Confidence; Charitable Activities; Fundraising
Rules 1.2, 1.3, 3.1 & 3.7

 
Issue: May a Judicial Official who is the chair of a Judicial Branch Public Service and Trust Commission Committee sign a letter of support, in his or her capacity as chair, on behalf of a legal aid organization seeking a technology grant from a charitable organization?

Additional Facts: The legal aid organization’s application for funding is related to the mission of the particular Public Service and Trust Commission and the Committee’s membership includes lawyers who represent diverse interests. The charitable organization in question is concerned with the law, the legal system or the administration of justice. The proceeds of the grant, if awarded, will be used for a program or activity that concerns the law, the legal system or the administration of justice.

Response: Rule 1.2 requires a judge to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

Rule 1.3 states that “[a] judge shall not use or attempt to use the prestige of judicial office to advance the personal or economic interests of the judge or others or allow others to do so.” The comments to this Rule note, inter alia, that a judge may provide a reference or recommendation for an individual based upon the judge’s personal knowledge and may use official letterhead provided the judge indicates that the reference is personal and the use of letterhead would not reasonably be perceived as an attempt to exert pressure by reason of the judicial office.

Rule 1.3 states that “[a] judge shall not use or attempt to use the prestige of judicial office to advance the personal or economic interests of the judge or others or allow others to do so.” The comments to this Rule note, inter alia, that a judge may provide a reference or recommendation for an individual based upon the judge’s personal knowledge and may use official letterhead provided the judge indicates that the reference is personal and the use of letterhead would not reasonably be perceived as an attempt to exert pressure by reason of the judicial office.

Rule 3.7(a) states that subject to the requirements of Rule 3.1, a judge may participate in activities sponsored by organizations concerned with the law, the legal system or the administration of justice, as well as those sponsored by or on behalf of educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organizations not conducted for profit, including the following: Rule 3.13 of the Code (Acceptance and Reporting of Gifts) states in part that:

  1. assisting such an organization or entity in planning related to fund-raising and participating in the management and investment of the organization’s or entity’s funds;
  2. soliciting contributions for such an organization or entity, but only from members of the judge’s family, or from judges over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority; …
  3. making recommendations to such a public or private fund-granting organization or entity in connection with its programs and activities but only if the organization or entity is concerned with the law, the legal system or the administration of justice ….”
Comment (2) to Rule 3.7 states that “[e]ven for law related organizations, a judge should consider whether the membership and purposes of the organization, or the nature of the judge’s participation in or association with the organization, would conflict with the judge’s obligation to refrain from activities that reflect adversely on a judge’s independence, integrity, and impartiality.”

The Committee, having considered, inter alia, Emergency Staff Opinion JE 2011-28 (a Judicial Official should not provide a letter of support to a law-related organization to use in soliciting donations but may, consistent with Rule 3.7(a)(5), make recommendations to a public or private fund-granting organization that is concerned with the law, the legal system or the administration of justice), and opinions from other jurisdictions including, but not limited to, Arizona Opinions 95-21 and 97-01, Florida Opinions 2012-35 and 2002-09, and New York Opinions 08-112 and 97-71, unanimously determined that if the inquiring Judicial Official has otherwise determined that the Committee has the authority to issue a letter of support and that the Committee has approved providing such a letter, the Judicial Official may, consistent with Rules 1.2, 1.3, 3.1 and 3.7(a)(5), issue a letter of support in his or her capacity as the Chair of the committee subject to the following conditions: (1) the Judicial Official is knowledgeable about the organization soliciting the funding, its purposes and how the funding will be used; (2) the Judicial Official is convinced that the project in fact advances the administration of justice; and (3) the Judicial Official makes it clear that the letter is on behalf of the Committee and not on behalf of the entire Judicial Branch.

Committee on Judicial Ethics

 


 

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