ON STANDARDS OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT
OPINION NO. 10 - 2012
RE: Propriety of a part-time magistrate serving on a county transportation committee, a preservation council, and other civic or charitable organizations.
A recently appointed part-time magistrate inquires into the propriety of continuing certain extra judicial activities. The magistrate serves on the county transportation committee. Every county in the state has such a committee, and the primary purpose is to administer funds generated to pave and improve dirt and secondary roads in the county.
The magistrate is also a member of a council consisting of private citizens and public officials dedicated to the preservation of the town and its surroundings, including managed growth, effective transportation systems, environmental preservation, and development of parks (“the preservation council”). The magistrate serves as the chairman of the preservation council’s transportation committee, which has initiated a project to create a new commission to landscape, irrigate and maintain medians, shoulders and pathways along the southern county corridors.
The magistrate is also a director of the Leadership Alumni Committee, a non-profit organization involved with social networking and community service activities among graduates of the Chamber of Commerce Leadership Program.
Finally, the magistrate is the Director of Fundraising and Grants for a charitable organization that brings terminally ill children and their families to the area for a week-long, expense-paid vacation. The magistrate sends letters and packages of information to various charitable foundations and donor organizations, but is not directly involved in fundraising.
A part-time magistrate may serve on a county transportation committee, a preservation council, and other non-profit civil or charitable organizations, but must not participate in fund-raising
Canon 4.C.(2), Rule 501 SCACR, prohibits a judge from accepting an appointment on a governmental committee or commission unless it relates to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice. However, according to the Application of the Code of Judicial Conduct, Rule 501, SCACR, a continuing part-time judge is not required to comply with Canon 4.C.(2). Furthermore, the commentary to Canon 4 notes that “[c]omplete 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.A. Thus, the judge is not prohibited from serving on the county transportation commission or the council for town preservation.
However, a judge must always avoid the appearance of impropriety. Canon 2, Rule 501, SCACR. A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interest of others. Canon 2.B. Since the judge’s opinion may influence the decisions of the transportation commission or the preservation council, the judge must be careful to avoid invoking the mantle of judicial office when expressing opinions and speak only as a citizen of the county and member of the transportation commission or the preservation council.
Canon 4C(3) provides that a judge may serve as an “officer, director, trustee, or non-legal advisor of …an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civil organization not conducted for profit” subject to the other limitations in the code. A judge should not serve on such organization if it will be frequently engaged in proceedings before the court. Canon 4C(3)(a). Furthermore, a judge may assist an organization in planning fund-raising but shall not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities. Canon 4C(3)(b). However, the Commentary states that “Use of an organization letterhead for fund-raising or membership solicitation does not violate Section 4C(3)(b) provided the letterhead lists only the judge’s name and office or other position in the organization….”
The Leadership Alumni Committee would qualify as a civil organization not conducted for profit. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the Committee would appear in proceedings before the magistrate. Thus, service on that committee is not prohibited.
The magistrate may serve on the charitable organization for terminally ill children, but should not be actively involved in fund-raising for that organization. The magistrate indicates that here, the magistrate only submits informational packets to various donor organizations. Under the commentary, if the magistrate simply sent out such packets using the letterhead of the charitable organization (and not disclosing the judicial office), Canon 4C(3)(b) had not been violated. However, because the magistrate’s position is entitled, “Director of Fundraising and Grants,” this Committee is concerned with the appearance of impropriety. The magistrate should resign that position, but may continue in another position as long as the judge abides by the limitations of Canon 4C(3)(b).
July 12, 2012