Opinion No. 156 (1993)

QUESTION: May a constitutional county judge accept a seven day expense paid trip to a foreign country to tour the facilities and meet representatives of a corporation that is building a large industrial facility in his county?

FACTS: ln addition to judicial responsibilities, the county judge is the presiding officer of the commissioners court and his duties include representing the county at ceremonial functions and promoting economic development. The corporation is requesting a tax abatement from the county. The judge's judicial responsibilities include presiding in cases of probate, juvenile delinquency, misdemeanors, and civil dispute, none of which presently involve the interests of the corporation hosting the trip.

ANSWER: Yes. Canon 8A(4) defines "County Judge" to mean the judge of the county court created in each county by article V, section 15 of the Texas Constitution. Canon 8C(1) provides, "A county judge who performs judicial functions shall comply with all provisions of this code except he or she is not required to comply: (1) when engaged in duties which relate to the judge's role in the administration of the county ...." Traveling to meet with agents of a corporation building a large industrial complex and seeking tax abatement in his county are duties that relate to the judge's role in the administration of the county. Consequently, in performing those duties, the county judge is not required to comply with the code.

The county judge should be alert to the fact that future cases may come before him in his judicial function in which the corporation may be a party or its interests may be affected. If that happens, the judge should comply with Canon 2, which requires that a judge act so as to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, not allow social or other relationships to influence his judicial conduct or judgment, and not lend the prestige of his office to advance the private interests of others nor permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence him The judge should also comply with
Canon 3A(1), which provides that a judge should be unswayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism; 3A(5) prohibiting ex parte communication concerning the merits of a pending or impending judicial proceeding; and 3A(9), providing that a judge shall perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice.

Whether the judge should recuse or disqualify himself in such cases is governed not by the Code of Judicial Conduct but by Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 18a and 18b. Consequently, the committee expresses no opinion on that subject.