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South Carolina
JUDICIAL DEPARTMENT
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Advisory Opinions

ADVISORY COMMITTEE
ON STANDARDS OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT


OPINION NO. 5 - 2014

RE: Propriety of a full-time magistrate serving as the vice-president of a college fraternity’s local alumni chapter.

FACTS

A full-time magistrate inquires into the propriety of service as the vice-president of a college fraternity’s local alumni chapter (a non-profit organization).  The organization focuses on improving the lives of young males and motivating young males to live productive lives through the use of role-modeling, character building activities, cultural training, and self- improvement programs.  The duties of vice-president would be to serve in the absence of the president by presiding at all meetings and exercising general supervision over all affairs.  The vice-president would appoint all program divisions’ chairmen and ensure that all officers and program division chairmen discharge their duties faithfully, impartially, accurately and promptly.  The vice-president shall also enforce strict observance of the organization’s laws and policies. 

The organization does have a fund-raising entity but has a component in place for those members that cannot participate by allowing them to pay an out of pocket assessment.  The organization has other procedures to accommodate members who cannot participate in fund-raising activities.                                                   

CONCLUSION

A full-time magistrate may serve as vice-president of a college fraternity’s alumni chapter, provided that the organization does not practice invidious discrimination.

OPINION

Canon 2C states that “[a] judge may not hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion or national origin.”  The Commentary states: 

The answer cannot be determined from a mere examination of an organization’s current membership rolls, but rather depends on how the organization selects members and other relevant factors, such as that the organization is dedicated to the preservation of religious, ethnic or cultural values of legitimate common interests to its members, or that it is in fact and effect an intimate, purely private organization whose membership limitations could not be constitutionally prohibited.

Commentary, Canon 2C. 

Deciding whether a specific organization is practicing discrimination is a question left to the individual judge.  A judge must be particularly sensitive to this issue.  A judge must avoid the appearance of impropriety.  Canon 2A.  Canon 2C does not automatically prohibit a judge from being a member of a fraternal organization; rather, the judge must examine the particular organization itself and decide whether he or she should be a member.  Therefore, a judge may be a member of a fraternal organization as long as Canon 2C is not violated.

Even if there is no invidious discrimination, such service must comply with the other Canons.  Canon 4C(3) states that a judge may serve as an officer of a fraternal organization conducted not for profit; however, under Canon 4C(3)(a), a judge should not serve as an officer of an organization which may ordinarily come before the judge. From the facts presented, there is no indication that the organization or its members would likely appear before the judge.  Finally, the magistrate would be exempt from all fund-raising requirements, which eliminates any potential violation of Canon 4C(3)(b).   Therefore, the magistrate may serve vice-president of the fraternity’s alumni chapter, provided that the organization does not practice invidious discrimination.

 

s/_____________________________________
A. CAMDEN LEWIS, CHAIRMAN

s/_____________________________________
JOCELYN B. CATE

s/_____________________________________
EDWARD G. WELMAKER,III

April 11, 2014