Opinion No. 157 (1993)

QUESTION 1: Can a Justice of the Peace, County Court at Law Judge or District Judge join in raising funds for a political party by participating in a car wash at a function sponsored by that political party? The names of the judges are not advertised with relation to the event. However, the judges are present and actively participate in the car wash.

ANSWER: Canon 7(3) specifically provides that a judge or judicial candidate may attend political events, and may indicate support for a political party. This provision of the code applies to a Justice of the Peace, County Court at Law Judge or District Judge. Given the conditions stated, it would appear that the question should be answered "Yes".

QUESTION 2: Can a Justice of the Peace, County Court at Law Judge or District Judge be the chairman of a committee within a political party that will be responsible for holding fund raising events to obtain money for a donation to a particular charitable organization within their community?  The decision as to which charitable organization will receive the funds will be made by a committee which does not include any judges. It is contemplated that the judge will chair the committee which decides on the fund raising events and help organize those events.

ANSWER: The answer to Question Two is "No". With respect to County Court at Law and District Judges, this activity would be prohibited by Canon 5B(2) which provides that a judge shall not solicit funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization. Even though under the proposed arrangement a judge would not participate in the selection of the particular charitable organization to receive the funds, the judge would, nevertheless, be lending the prestige of his office to the solicitation and giving the impression that contributors might obtain special favor with him.

With respect to a Justice of the Peace, Canon 5B(2) is made inapplicable by the specific provisions of Canon 8D. However, other canons which do apply to Justices of the Peace, and all other judges, appear to prohibit a justice's participation in the activity described. For instance, Canon 4C provides that a judge should not personally participate in public fund raising activities even for an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice. Canon 5C(1) provides that a judge should refrain from financial and business dealings that tend to reflect adversely on the judge's impartiality, exploit his or her judicial position or involve the judge in frequent transactions with lawyers or persons likely to come before the Court. Canon 2B provides that a judge should not lend the prestige of his or her office to advance the private interests of himself, herself or others nor convey nor permit others to convey the impression they are in a special position to influence him or her. Consequently, the committee concludes that the question should be answered "No" for Justices of the Peace, too.

Previous ethics opinions have discouraged such activities in any similar contexts. See Opinions 10, 11, 16, 25, 41, 51, 59, 60, 67, 110, 131, 147 and 150.