Opinion No. 208 (1997)

QUESTION: Can a justice of the peace serve as a Court appointed special advocate (CASA volunteer) in the county in which he or she serves as a justice of the peace or in other counties?

BACKGROUND INFORMATION: The CASA program consists of community citizens trained and appointed by district judges to serve as volunteers to advocate for the best interests of children who are involved in the court system due to abuse, neglect or abandonment, and to aid in reducing the time spent by these children in foster care. According to the Texas CASA, Inc. Annual Report - FY96, there are currently 44 CASA programs covering 85 counties in Texas, serving approximately 6,537 children. CASA volunteers serve without compensation.

ANSWER: Yes, 'to both parts of the question. Canon 6(C) provides that a justice of the peace shall comply with all provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct, except that he or she is not required to comply with several specified provisions, such as Canon 4(F) (acting as an arbitrator or mediator) or Canon 4(G) (practicing law, if an attorney). It would appear that serving as a court appointed special advocate for a child in court proceeding would be similar in nature to these non-prohibited activities, and it is the opinion of the ethics committee that a justice of the peace would therefore not be in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct by serving as a CASA volunteer, provided further that he or she complies with Canon3A (requiring that the judicial duties of a judge take precedence over the judge's other activities).