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Connecticut Committee on Judicial Ethics
Informal Opinion Summaries


2014-08 (June 11, 2014)
Name, Use of; Fundraising; Advancing Private Interests
Rules 1.2 & 1.3
 
Issue:  May a Judicial Official grant a nonprofit organization permission to use his or her name and former political title on the organization’s letterhead? 
 

Additional Facts:  Prior to the Judicial Official’s appointment to the bench, the Judicial Official served as an elected government official. While serving in that capacity, the Judicial Official was a member of a local nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization whose mission is to make meaningful contributions toward improving the quality of life for children in a particular Connecticut town. The Judicial Official is not involved in any fundraising and no longer attends meetings. The organization’s letterhead lists board members and at least 8 other former elected officials. The purpose of the letter is to invite individuals to a golf tournament -- the organization’s sole annual fundraising event. The letter also solicits donations, including auction items, raffle prizes and gift cards. According to the Judicial Official, the organization has raised approximately $25,000 to date.  The golf event also offers sponsorship opportunities. In the past, sponsorship classifications were as follows: Major Sponsor ($500-5,000) and Flag Sponsor ($150).
 
Because the nonprofit organization appears to be affiliated with a particular municipality, the letter also includes the following disclaimer: “Please be aware that donations to this tournament will not in any way have any influence in doing business with the [Town]. This tournament is not affiliated with Town government as the [organization] is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization.”
 

Response: Rule 1.2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct states 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 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 as a judge.”
 
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.”
 
Based on the facts presented, the Committee unanimously determined that the Judicial Official should not allow the nonprofit organization to use his or her name and former political title on its letterhead because the purpose of the communication is for fundraising. In reaching its decision, the Committee took into account its prior opinions in JE 2008-06 (a Judicial Official could join a law school reunion committee provided that he/she did not participate in any activity involving fundraising from others, including but not limited to (1) not allowing his/her name to be used on any letters or communications concerning fundraising activities, and (2) not participating in activities related to requesting participation in a class gift campaign, thanking classmates who have made a gift or pledge, and contacting those who have not yet given to encourage their support); JE 2009-11 (a Judicial Official may not accept an award for excellence in mediation because the event appears to be a fundraiser and should not allow the use of his or her name for purposes of advertising such an event); and JE 2010-27 (a Judicial Official may attend and participate in a golf tournament fundraiser for the benefit of a judicial branch employee who was tragically injured in a motorcycle accident and may contribute money and sponsor a hole, tee or cart to help the injured employee. The Committee, however, cautioned that the Judicial Official should consider the propriety of using their judicial title in connection with the fundraiser to determine whether it implicitly lend the prestige of office to advance the private interests of others in violation of Canon 2).

Committee on Judicial Ethics

 

 

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