ON STANDARDS OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT
OPINION NO. 6-2010
RE: Propriety of a Family Court Judge writing a letter to a school district recommending that a juvenile that appeared before the judge be permitted to play football even though he lives out of the school district.
A Family Court Judge heard a case involving a juvenile who was also on a local high school football team. The parent of the juvenile has decided to move the juvenile away from the victim and to a school outside of the school district where they leave. The juvenile's parent works at the school district and can supervise the juvenile during school hours. The parent would also like the juvenile to be able to continue to play football as students who are involved in extracurricular activities rarely tend to appear in juvenile court. However, the parent is concerned that the high school football league may not allow the juvenile to play for his new school since it is out of his school district. The parent has requested that the judge write a letter to the high school football league recommending that they allow the juvenile to play.
The judge may not write the high school league unless there is a motion or other formal request.
Canon 2 states a judge shall avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety at all times. Rule 501, SCACR. Canon 2B states that a judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interest of others. The Commentary to that section notes that a judge can provide a letter of recommendation based on personal knowledge, but states that a "judge must not initiate communication of information to a sentencing judge or a probation or corrections officer, but may provide such persons information for the record in response to a formal request." The Commentary seems to distinguish between writing a letter for recommendation for college or a job, from transmitting information in other situations.
In this matter, while the judge is not being asked to provide information to the sentencing judge or probation officer, the judge is being asked to communicate information about a juvenile that appeared before the judge to the high school football league, and whether the juvenile should be eligible to play. Providing such information without a formal request, such as a motion by the juvenile or his attorney, could create the appearance that the judge is lending the prestige of judicial office to the juvenile. However, if a formal request is made by motion or otherwise, then the judge could make such decision as is in the best interest of the juvenile.