FUND RAISING PROHIBITED BY JUDGES
FOR NATIONAL CENTER FOR STATE COURTS

Opinion No. 196 (1996)


QUESTION: May a judge who is director of the National Center for State Courts (a nonprofit organization serving the needs of justice in state courts) sign a letter soliciting funds for the organization mailed to lawyers who appear in front of him?

If not, may a judge solicit funds for the National Center for State Courts from lawyers who are only licensed in other states and who practice in firms with no offices in Texas?

ANSWER: No. It is a violation of Canon 4C(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct for a judge to sign a letter soliciting funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization. The National Center for State Courts is among the organizations included in this prohibition.

No. The Judicial Ethics Committee is of the opinion that the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct applies to the activities of the Texas judiciary both in and out of this state.

Historically, the code has encouraged the Texas judge to participate as an officer, director, delegate, or trustee of educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, and civic organizations. At the same time, it has prohibited a judge for engaging in the direct solicitation of funds for such organizations, including political parties, and from being a speaker or guest of honor at such an organization's fund raising event. At one time the Committee interpreted then Canon 4C as permitting a judge to participate in "private" fund raising activities.

The Committee is of the opinion that Canon 4C(2) permitting a judge to be listed as an officer, director, delegate, or trustee on the letterhead of a corporation, implicitly allows the use of such stationary for fund raising purposes. Judges should be encouraged to participate in professional and community activities to the maximum extent permitted by the Canons.

The question presented here serves to further emphasize the conundrum faced by members of the judiciary in attempting to further the development and efficiency of the justice system without bursting the bubble in which they must exist. In the instant situation, the placing of the judge's name on the letterhead or referring to the judge as one of the supporters of the National Center, would send enough of a message without it being a direct solicitation. Signing the solicitation letter would be prohibited.