J.P. RUNNING COLLECTION AGENCY

Opinion No. 211 (1997)


QUESTION: May a Justice of the Peace make telephone calls and send lenders to debtors on behalf of a collection agency? The judge's communications would not mention her judicial status, she would do the work at home and not at the court offices, and any suits to collect the debts would be heard by a different judge.

ANSWER: No. Such activity would violate Canon 4D(l), which provides that "A judge shall refrain from financial and business dealings that tend to reflect adversely on the judge's impartiality, interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties, exploit his or her judicial position, or involve the judge in frequent transactions with lawyers or persons likely to come before the court on which the judge serves."

Canon 2B also contains this general prohibition: "A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or other." Direct debt collection activities by the judge would inevitably cause some litigants and others in the community to question her impartiality in debt collection cases, or to perceive that she is exploiting her office or lending its prestige to the private interests of the collection agency and the creditors it represents.

For similar reasons, previous opinions have forbidden judges to own an interest in a title insurance company (Opinion 23), to serve as directors of banks or related corporate entities (Opinions 37, 38, 42, 61, and 89), or to serve on a downtown development committee (Opinion 141).