2013-04 (Emergency Staff Opinion issued February 27, 2013)
Promoting Public Confidence; Prestige of Office
Rules 1.2 & 1.3
May a Judicial Official participate in a group photo to be taken in a courthouse lobby wearing his/her robe in support of Rare Disease Day? The photo will be posted on the “Move YOUR Way for Rare Disease Day” Facebook page, the location for this virtual event.
Additional Facts: An intern who works in the Office of the State’s Attorney suffers from a rare neuromuscular disorder. To raise awareness for this horrible disease, a prosecutor from the intern’s office has invited everyone in the building, including judges, to pose for a group photo tomorrow afternoon holding a bib for Rare Disease Day. The invitation specifically encourages judges to wear their robes. The virtual event is hosted by the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), the Freidreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance (FARA), Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD), the National Ataxia Foundation (NAF) and other advocacy groups around the world.
According to the Rare Disease Day website (www.rarediseaseday.org), the main objective of the day is “to raise awareness amongst the general public and decision-makers about rare disease and their impact on patients’ lives.” Although the campaign targets the public, it is also designed for politicians, public authorities, policy-makers, industry representatives, researchers, health professional and anyone who has a genuine interest. The website also states that “the political momentum resulting from the Day has also served for advocacy purposes.” The actions of these organizations have already ensured progress in healthcare and social assistance to patients and parents and in the development of treatments. In some cases, a few patient organizations have managed to raise funds in order to fund research projects that otherwise would not have been carried out.
Response: The inquiry was circulated to the Committee members and input solicited. Rule 1.2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that a judge “shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety. The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge violated this Code or engaged in other conduct that reflects adversely on the judge’s honesty, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge.”
Based upon the information provided, including that the activity does not concern the law, the legal system or the administration of justice, but involves an organization that may be involved in advocacy, the Judicial Official was advised that he/she should not pose for the group photo at all (either with or without a robe) because to do so would violate Rule 1.3’s proscription against using the prestige of office to advance private interests.
Although not an ethical issue, the Judicial Official was reminded that the use of Judicial Branch facilities for purposes other than the adjudication of cases requires approval by the Chief Court Administrator under Section 1105 of the Branch’s Administrative Policies and Procedures.