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South Carolina
JUDICIAL DEPARTMENT
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Advisory Opinions

ADVISORY COMMITTEE
ON STANDARDS OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT


OPINION NO. 08 - 2013

RE: Propriety of a full-time Associate Municipal Court judge serving on the City's Grievance Committee.

FACTS

A full-time Associate Municipal Court judge has been nominated to serve on the City's Grievance Committee.  As an Associate Municipal judge, the judge sets bonds, releases prisoners, and handles other clerical work.  The judge is also the Court Administrator and supervises the daily functions of the Court.  Associate Municipal judges do not normally preside over trials unless the trial judge is recused or disqualified. 

The City’s Grievance Committee handles grievances that arise through employees who feel they have been wrongly disciplined or terminated.  The grievant and the supervisor who issued the disciplinary sanction will each present the case to the Grievance Committee.  The Grievance Committee can agree with either side and then make recommendations to City Council, which has the final decision as to whether to uphold or overturn the disciplinary sanction.  There is no compensation for service on the Grievance Committee.

CONCLUSION

An Associate Municipal Judge should not serve on the City’s Grievance Committee.

OPINION

Canon 4C(2) provides that a "judge shall not accept appointment to a governmental committee or commission or other governmental position that is concerned with issues of fact or policy on matters other than the improvement of law." The Commentary to this section further explains that this section:

prohibits a judge from accepting any governmental position except one relating to the law, legal system, or administration of justice....The appropriateness of accepting extra-judicial assignments must be assessed in light of the demands on judicial resources created by crowded dockets and the need to protect the courts from involvement in extra-judicial matters that may prove to be controversial.

Commentary, Canon 4.C(2).

Here, the Grievance Committee will address issues of fact that relate to the circumstances of any employee’s performance and the sanctions issued by the supervisor. These issues do not relate to the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.  Furthermore, because the Grievance Committee makes recommendations on sensitive matters such as employee discipline (including termination of employees), service on the Committee could prove to be controversial.  Thus, the Associate Municipal Judge should decline such service.

 

s/_____________________________________
A. CAMDEN LEWIS, CHAIRMAN

s/_____________________________________
JOCELYN B. CATE

s/_____________________________________
G. EDWARD WELMAKER, III

September 27, 2013