ON STANDARDS OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT
OPINION NO. 7 - 2014
RE: Propriety of a Circuit Court Judge’s involvement in a spouse’s political campaign.
A Circuit Court Judge wishes to be involved in a spouse’s political campaign. The judge wants to attend candidate forums and debates, as well fund-raising and/or non-fund raising activities for the spouse’s political campaign. Additionally, the judge wants to be present with the judge’s spouse on election night. The judge also wants to have his or her name and/or picture, without title, appear on the spouse’s campaign ads and fliers.
In Opinion 14-2003, this Committee addressed a similar questions presented by a Family Court Judge and found that a judge could attend a spouse’s fundraising and non-fundraising activities, have his or her name and picture (without title) used in campaign materials, and could also attend election night. We find no reason to deviate from that decision. However, in Opinion 14-2003, the Committee did not address the propriety of a judge’s attendance at candidate forums and debates, and thus we address that question below.
While “a judicial candidate must encourage members of his or her family to adhere to the same standards of political conduct in support of the candidate that apply to the candidate, family members are free to participate in other political activity.” Rule 501, SCACR, Canon 5(A)(3), Commentary. Thus, a judge’s spouse can run for office and participate in all facets of a campaign. Regarding the judge’s participation, the Canons prohibit a judge from publicly endorsing a candidate for public office. Canon 5(A)(1)(b). However, the Canons also note that “Complete separation of a judge from extra-judicial activities is neither possible nor wise; a judge should not become isolated from the community in which the judge lives.” Commentary, Canon 4. It was under this logic that this Committee determined Opinion 14-2003. We believe that under this logic, the judge may appear as an observer, but not a participant, at candidate forums and debates, as long as the judge’s title is not used in any advertisements for such forums and debates and the judge’s title is not raised in introducing the candidate at the forum or debate. These precautions will make it clear at all times that the judge is not present in any sort of judicial capacity and that the judge’ s participation is as a spouse only, and thus, does not an constitute endorsement of a candidate for public office.
April 21, 2014