July 29, 1991

The Ethics Advisory Committee has been asked for its opinion as to whether a trial Judge may serve as a member of the editorial advisory board of a magazine which focuses, in large part, on state and local political races and personalities, and whether the judge may vote in a secret poll of board members to determine the front-runners in Utah's major political races. The judge has also asked whether excerpts of a letter written by the judge, commending the editor for the quality and concept of the magazine, may be published in the magazine.

The judge provided a copy of the first issue of the magazine and the proposed letter to the committee for review. Committee members also received and reviewed a copy of the magazine's second issue. The magazine is non-partisan, i.e., it does not promote candidates from one party over the candidates of another.


The board, as currently constituted, consists of approximately ninety well known individuals, most of whom are either directly or indirectly involved in Utah politics. A list of board members is prominently displayed in each issue of the magazine. The Judge is interested in serving on the board in order to promote coverage of the activities, functions and progress of the judiciary, and the magazine's editor has expressed an interest in including those types of articles in future issues. According to the opinion request, board members perform various functions including suggesting and writing articles, commenting on the content of articles, and periodically participating in board meetings in order to discuss the magazine and get better acquainted.

Having reviewed the first two issues, the committee believes that the magazine is first and foremost a political publication, participation in which is governed by Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Political activity need not be partisan to be prohibited by the Code. In Informal Opinion 89-7, this committee determined that a judge may not participate in a non-partisan school board campaign.

At least three of the activities prohibited by Canon 7 exist here: attending political gatherings or other functions, acting as a leader in a political organization, and taking a public position on a non-partisan political issue which would jeopardize the confidence of the public in the impartiality of the judicial system. In addition, Canon 1 requires a judge to uphold judicial independence and Canon 2 requires a judge to promote judicial impartiality.

This committee has defined a political gathering as "any gathering of two or more people for political purposes." Informal Opinion 89-7. Board meetings clearly fall within that broad definition. The committee also believes that board members are leaders in a political organization. Finally, the committee believes that participation as a board member could be viewed as taking a public position on a political issue, and that such a perception would jeopardize the public confidence in judicial impartiality. Having determined that the judge may not be a member of the board,  it follows that the judge may not participate in the board members' poll.


This committee, in Informal Opinion 90-8, discussed the propriety of a judge writing the foreword to a book on child support negotiation and litigation. The committee concluded that the judge could write the foreword if in doing so, the judge did not lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of the book's author or others. The committee has reviewed the judge's proposed letter, a letter which commends both the magazine and its editor, and believes that publication of excerptsfrom the letter would in fact advance the private interests of the magazine's editor. Consequently, publication of the letter is prohibited by the Code.