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Ethics Opinion

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NOTE: Effective January 1, 2000, the "180-day Fundraising Period" in MCJC 7B(2)(c) has been replaced by a fund-raising period starting on February 15 of the year of the election.


February 8, 1989


    A judge may not participate by going "door to door" or "on the street" as part of the sale of items, products or gaining contributions, where the primary purpose is to solicit funds for charitable or philanthropic organizations.

    Reference: MCJC 5B(2).


The Committee has been asked whether a probate judge may, on behalf of a charitable organization, make door to door sales or seek donations for the charitable organization's activities, occasionally identifying himself/herself by name but without reference to the judicial office.

A provision of the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct and various Opinions of this committee are applicable in deciding this question. MCJC 5B(2) states that:

    "A judge should not individually solicit funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of his office for that purpose, but he may be listed as an officer, director or trustee of such organization. A judge may, however, join a general appeal on behalf of an educational, religious, charitable, or fraternal organization or speak on behalf of such organization." Emphasis added.

Where this question has been heretofore presented in various other formats, such conduct has always been proscribed. An event commonly called "The Great American Lockup" was found to give the appearance of using the power and prestige of judicial office and was seen to be an individual solicitation, JTC A/O 69. Likewise, individual solicitation in an Easter Seals drive or local non-profit public radio was held improper, JTC A/O 22. Although the committee has consistently held that while fund-raising for charitable organizations is not only "laudable" and should be encouraged to the extent that it is not clearly prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct, every reference to person-to-person solicitation of funds rather than a "general appeal" has been found to be improper. See, JTC A/O 54, JTC A/O 70; CI-641.

Former Michigan Canon of Judicial Ethics 25, predecessor of MCJC 5B, provided in relevant part:

    "A judge should avoid giving ground for any reasonable suspicion that he is utilizing the power or prestige of his office to persuade or coerce others to patronize or contribute . . . to charitable enterprises. He should, therefore, not . . . solicit for charities . . . .

    "Nothing herein contained shall prevent a judge from occupying a position on any charity board or joining a general appeal on behalf of such charity or speaking on behalf of such charity, provided, however, he shall not do any personal soliciting." Emphasis added.

Accordingly, a judge may not individually solicit funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization or use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for that purpose - which includes selling or soliciting funds for items on the street or going door-to-door.



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