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Connecticut Committee on Judicial Ethics
Informal Opinion Summaries

2015-16 (September 17, 2015)
Advancing Private Interests; Prestige of Office; Recommendations
Rules 1.2 and 1.3

Issue: May a Judicial Official sign a letter in support of Lawyers for Children America (“LCA”)? 
Additional Facts: According to a representative from Lawyers for Children America, LCA is a nonprofit organization that relies heavily on grants and organizational funding, and their caseload has decreased. It would be helpful to show their funding sources letters of support from the judges who preside over the courts in which they work. The inquiring Judicial Official notes that a number of judges are or will be receiving a similar letter asking that they provide letters of support.
According to the organization’s website, Lawyers for Children America is a lead child advocacy organization protecting the rights of children who are victims of abuse, abandonment and neglect by providing quality pro bono legal representation and collaborating for systematic change to improve the lives of children. 
Applicable Rules of Judicial Conduct: Rule 1.2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct states that a judge “should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the … 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.” 

Rule 1.3 of the Code 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.”

Discussion: Last month, the Committee considered the issue of whether a judge may endorse or promote a particular program. At issue in JE 2015-14 was whether a judge may sign a letter recommending co-parenting communication services. The facts seemed to suggest that the primary purpose of the letter was to market these services to the New York bench.  The Committee unanimously determined that signing the letter would violate Rule 1.3 and its prohibition on lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others. In reaching its conclusion, the Committee considered analogous ethics advisory opinions from New York and Florida. 
The issue of whether a Judicial Official could provide a letter of support to a law-related organization for the organization to use in soliciting donations was considered in emergency staff opinion JE 2011-28.  The opinion, which was ratified by the Committee on November 23, 2011, noted that pursuant to Rule 3.7(a)(2), a judge can only solicit funds for an organization concerned with the law, the legal system or the administration of justice from a member of the judge’s family or other judges over whom the inquiring judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority. With respect to Rule 3.7(a)(5), which allows a judge to make recommendations to a public or private fund-granting organization or entity in connection with its programs and activities, the Committee noted that  this section of the rule has been viewed as applying in the context of the judge serving on the board of  a fund-granting organization  concerned with the law, the legal system of the administration of justice, as opposed to assisting in the fundraising activities of a potential grant recipient. The Judicial Official was advised not to provide the requested letter of support.
Recommendation:  Based on the facts presented, including that the Judicial Official presides over cases in which volunteers from LCA appear, and consistent with this Committee’s prior decisions (JE 2011-28 & JE 2015-14), the Committee unanimously determined that the Judicial Official should not provide the letter of support to the Lawyers for Children America because to do so would violate Rule 1.3’s prohibition on lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others and the restrictions on soliciting contributions in Rule 3.7.


Committee on Judicial Ethics



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