March 15, 1993

The Ethics Advisory Committee has been asked for its opinion as to whether judges may continue as members of a professional organization in which, in addition to its other activities, has begun to publicly endorse candidates for partisan political office.

The request comes jointly from three judges, all long-time members of an organization which, during the 1992 general election campaign, publicly endorsed three candidates for political office on the basis of their commitment to certain issues of interest to the organization. The organization had not previously endorsed partisan political candidates. Of the three candidates who received the endorsements, two were candidates for national office and one was a candidate for state attorney general. Although the endorsements were voted upon by the organization's members, the three judges abstained from voting. The endorsements were printed in at least one major Utah newspaper, without mention of the judges' abstentions.

Although Canon 4C specifically allows judges to maintain membership in organizations devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice, a judge's activities as a member of such organizations are governed by several Code provisions. Among them, Canon 7B(2) states that a judge should not publicly endorse a candidate for judicial office. Canon 2B provides that a judge should not lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of others, and Canon 5B prohibits participation in activities that reflect adversely upon a judge's impartiality. Those Canons both prohibit a judge from personally endorsing, and from holding membership in an organization which endorses, candidates for partisan political office.

In Informal Opinion 88-2, the Committee was asked whether the Code allowed a judge to participate in an organization which had, as its stated purpose, the coordination of policies and procedures among various governmental agencies dealing with child abuse -- including the courts. The organization had taken a public position against proposed legislation establishing criminal penalties for false reporting of child abuse. The Committee determined that because the judge's impartiality might be compromised by virtue of the organization's position. the Code barred continued participation in the organization. Moreover, the Committee stated:

         . . the appearance of impropriety would not be cured by the judge's recusal from the organization's discussion of or vote on the issue or its lobbying activities.

The Committee believes that judges may not maintain their membership in an organization that endorses candidates for partisan political office, and that abstinence from the endorsement process, even coupled with public notice of the abstinence, does not clear the way for continued membership.