Opinion No. 126 (1989)*

QUESTION: If a parent incurs fees charged by a Juvenile Board's Court Services Department for receiving and disbursing child support or for social studies, and if the applicable statute provides that payment of such fees may be enforced in district court, may a District Judge sign a letter to such parent, or authorize a letter from the court to such parent, to collect such fees?

ANSWER: There are no specific Code of Judicial Conduct provisions that guide a judge in avoiding conflicts between adjudicative and administrative responsibilities, but the Committee is of the opinion that a judge should not personally participate in attempting to collect such fees. If a judge may be required to preside at a hearing concerning the payment of fees, a judge should not write a letter for the purpose of collecting those fees. Such a letter would give the appearance of being inconsistent with the Canon 3A(4) provision that a judge shall afford to every party the full right to be heard according to law, and the Canon 3A(5) provision that a judge shall not initiate or permit ex parte communications concerning an impending proceeding.

The committee is also of the opinion that such letters should not appear to be from the "court", that is, from the judicial entity of which the judge is the principal officer. As the authority to determine disputed law and fact issues concerning the fees is actually delegated by law to that entity, it should not send collection letters.


*Canon 3A(5) was amended effective December 19, 1989.