USE OF JUDICIAL LETTERHEAD

Opinion No. 137 (1990)


DEFINITION: In this opinion "judicial letterhead" means letterhead that shows a judge's title, position, and official address and is suitable for official judicial correspondence.

QUESTION 1: May a judge use judicial letterhead, or letterhead that simply shows the title "Judge", for personal business and social correspondence?

ANSWER: Yes. The Code of Judicial Conduct does not prohibit the use of judicial letterhead, or letterhead that shows the title "Judge", for personal matters. However, a judge should avoid any appearance of impropriety (Canon 2), or of conflict with the judge's judicial duties (Canon 5), that might result from such use of such letterhead, including the following:

a. letterhead use that would give the appearance of using the prestige of the judge's office to advance the private interests of the judge or others, or would reflect on the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary (Canons 1 and 2);
b. letterhead use that would appear to exploit the judge's position or would require frequent disqualification (Canon 5C); or
c. using letterhead as a part of any conduct that violates another provision of the Code.

QUESTION 2: May a judge place a small picture of the judge on judicial letterhead purchased with personal funds?

ANSWER: While placing a picture of the judge on the judge's official letterhead would not violate any specific provision of the Code of Judicial Conduct, the Committee believes that the use of a picture of the judge on judicial letterhead would be undignified. See Canon 3A(3). Such a picture could also place an unusual and unnecessary emphasis on the appearance and personality of the judge, which could tend to obscure the basic principle that the administration of justice should be an impersonal, predictable, and consistent process, based on the application of established rules of law to the facts of each case, and not on the individual judge presiding in each case.

QUESTION 3: May a judge use judicial letterhead to solicit contributions or other support in the judge's campaign for reelection or for election to another office?

ANSWER: No. Canon 5C(1) provides that a judge's financial activities must not reflect adversely on the judge's impartiality, interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties, exploit the judge's judicial position, or involve the judge in frequent transactions with lawyers or persons likely to be in court. On December 19, 1989 the Texas Supreme Court amended Canon 5C(1) by adding thereto a sentence providing that this "limitation" on financial activities does not prohibit a judge from soliciting campaign contributions. (Emphasis added.)

The Committee concludes that this amendment manifests the Supreme Court's intent to provide that campaign solicitations are subject to the same Canon 5C(1) rules that govern a judge's other financial activities. Therefore, in soliciting campaign contributions, a judge must avoid activities that reflect adversely on the judge's impartiality, interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties, exploit the judge's judicial position, or involve the judge in frequent transactions with lawyers or persons likely to be in court.*

The Committee believes that the use of judicial letterhead to solicit campaign contributions or other campaign support would violate Canon 5C(1) as amended. Of course a judge's campaign literature should state the judge's present title and position, but the use of official judicial letterhead for campaign purposes could give the appearance that a judge candidate is attempting to exploit the judge's judicial position.

QUESTION 4: May a judge who is chairman of the local Bar Association membership committee use judicial letterhead for a letter from the judge asking lawyers to join the Bar Association?

ANSWER: Yes. To a limited extent Canon 4C condones the use of judicial prestige for the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice, and it permits a judge to serve as a member, officer, or director of an organization devoted to those purposes. However, the Code does not permit a judge to use the prestige of judicial office by participating personally in fund raising activities for such an organization, and use of judicial letterhead for that purpose would be improper.

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* Committee Footnote: Judges should not assume that the Supreme Court intended the other meaning that could be given this amendment: that a judges may solicit a campaign contribution even if the solicitation reflects adversely on the judge's impartiality, interferes with the proper performance of judicial duties, exploits the judge's judicial position, and involves the judge in frequent transactions with lawyers or persons likely to be in court.