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Connecticut Committee on Judicial Ethics
Informal Opinion Summaries

2009-39 (January 29, 2010)
Event, attendance/appearance; Awards & Honors; Fundraiser; Speaking
Canons 2 & 5

Issue: May a Judicial Official receive an award and be recognized as a guest of honor at an annual awards banquet for student athletes and others involved with sports?

Response: A Judicial Official has inquired about the propriety of accepting an award at an annual awards banquet for student athletes. The facts presented are as follows. Approximately 30 student athletes and 4-5 adults will receive awards. The sponsoring organization is a non-profit entity. Those being recognized are not charged for attending the dinner. The catering hall charges $10 less, per person, than the sponsoring organization will charge for regular dinner tickets. There also will be patron tickets at a higher fee. In addition to ticket sales, there will be an ad journal and sponsorships. Typically, 300 – 400 people attend the awards banquet, basically all of whom are associated with the athletic programs/schools the student athletes attend or are friends/family of the award recipients. This year the organization is celebrating an anniversary and has invited prior year’s award recipients to attend, which may result in an increase in attendance.

The organization gives out scholarships, which are supported, in part by funds collected in connection with the annual awards banquet. While the fees and prices normally are set so that the banquet program breaks even (including the cost of the dinner, scholarships, program book, etc.), in some years the organization has realized a slight net profit while in other years the organization has had to subsidize the event. Last year the organization incurred a net expense of approximately $350. This year the organization has budgeted $5,000 of its funds toward the cost of the event. It is anticipated that these additional funds will be needed because the organization is planning to have one or more nationally recognized speakers at the banquet, whereas in the past the organization has used local personalities as speakers.

Publicity for the event generally consists of press releases and photographs of the award recipients. Last year a press release was forwarded to area newspapers approximately six weeks prior to the awards banquet. The press release identified the 4-5 adults receiving an award and the award that he or she would receive. It is anticipated that, in this instance, although the press release would not identify the recipient as a Judicial Official, the program book distributed on the day of the banquet would include a write-up about each award recipient and would include what the recipient does professionally.

The Committee has previously expressed on several occasions its opinion regarding participation in fundraising events. See JE 2009-09 (speaking at a legal aid breakfast); JE 2009-11(award recipient at a nonprofit fundraising dinner); JE 2009-14 (accepting award, in a representative capacity, at a fundraiser); and JE 2009-32 (accepting recognition at an advocacy organization fundraiser). Based upon the information provided, the Committee unanimously determined that the event qualifies as a fund-raising event because the funds that would be collected from ticket sales, including higher priced patron tickets and the program book, would be applied, not only to the specific costs associated with the banquet, but also to support the scholarship program. The Committee concluded that, although the Judicial Official may attend the banquet, Canon 5(b) prohibits the Judicial Official from accepting an award or being recognized as a guest of honor at the fundraising event.

Committee on Judicial Ethics



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