SUPPORT OF COUNTY BOND ELECTION

Opinion No. 82 (1986)*


QUESTION: May judges support a county bond election, designated a "law and order election," to fund an expanded and improved jail facility, a new county criminal courts building, and renovation and improvement of civil district and family courts facilities?

ANSWER: Yes, with certain limitations. Canon 4 of the Code of Judicial Conduct permits a judge to engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice. However, Canon 4 also sets forth certain limitations, "subject to the proper performance of his judicial duties, [a judge] may engage in [such duties], if in doing so he does not cast doubt on his capacity to decide impartially any issue that may come before him."

A possible second limitation may occur if the "law and order" bond issue is not segregated from other issues which do not pertain to law improvement, the legal system and the administration of justice. In our Opinion No. 64, this committee was of the opinion that it would be unethical for a judge to actively support a bond election to raise funds to develop a city water project. If the "law and order" bond issue is submitted with other issues and not segregated, ethical considerations may become involved. See Canon 5.

A possible third limitation may occur depending upon what the judges mean by "support" the bond election. To support a bond issue connotes much more than a mere endorsement. Canon 1 states, "A judge should uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary." Canon 2 states, "A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety." Canon 7 states, "A judge should refrain from political activity inappropriate to [the Judiciary]."

Your Committee is of the opinion that proper facilities and equipment for courts and jails are essential to the legal system and the proper administration of justice.
Subject to the limitations set forth above, a majority of the committee is of the opinion that it would not be unethical to support a bond issue for those purposes enumerated in the posed question.

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*Canon 7 was amended effective June 26, 1990.