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Ethics Opinion

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December 19, 1990


    A judge may not personally solicit funds on behalf of any charitable organization.

    An organization of judges may retain a non-judge executive director to solicit funds for the organization's charitable and educational activities.

    References: MCJC 5B(2); J-1; CI-351, CI-633; JTC A/O 54; ABA i603.


A member of an organization of elected judges, administrative law judges, magistrates, and referees wishes to solicit funds from the public and private sectors for charitable and educational purposes. The member asks:

  1. Would solicitation by a non-judge executive director on the organization's behalf be prohibited by MCJC 5B(2)?
  2. Would solicitation on the organization's behalf by administrative law judge members be prohibited by MCJC 5B(2)?

A lawyer serving as an administrative law judge is subject to the lawyer code of ethics, and not to the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct, CI-351, CI-633. Pursuant to MRPC 8.4(c), "It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to: . . . engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice; . . . ." The nature of such prohibited conduct can be determined by reference to general ethical principles in relevant statutes, the MCJC, and other portions of the MRPC.

MCJC 5B(2) prohibits a judge or other judicial officer, such as referee or magistrate, from individually soliciting funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization, and from permitting the use of the prestige of the judge's office for that purpose. However, a judge may be listed as an officer, director, or trustee of the organization, and a judge may join a general appeal on behalf of an educational, religious, charitable, or fraternal organization. In J-1, the Committee stated:

    "A judge may not personally solicit funds for an educational, religious, fraternal or civic/charitable organization or cause. Speeches, broadcasts, or other communications where the judge asks others to contribute would therefore be improper. This would apply whether or not the judge is identified by judicial title.

    "A judge may be a member of an educational, religious, fraternal or civic/charitable, fund-raising committee as long as the judge does not individually solicit money (CI-641). MCJC 5B permits a judge to serve as director or trustee of charitable or civic organizations. It follows that the canon permits a judge to be identified by name and judicial office on a letterhead, in circulated literature or in any other communications disseminated by the organization of which the judge is a member. There is no prohibition against the organization circulating fund-raising letters on such letterhead, provided the judge is not the sole signator of the letter (CI-641).

    "MCJC 5B(2) does allow a judge's participation in appeals on behalf of educational, religious, fraternal or civic/charitable organizations. Thus, if a board or committee sends a mailing to a variety of people who are known to support the organization, the presence of the judge's name on that letterhead or as one of several signators would not be improper (CI-641)."

If the organization's fund-raising letter is signed by someone other than one of its members, and the organization's members do not personally participate in the solicitation, the organization's solicitation for charitable and educational purposes does not violate MCJC 5B(2).



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