Informal Opinion 97-9
November 19, 1997

The Ethics Advisory Committee has been asked by the Board of District Court Judges whether judges and court employees may be involved in the CASA Juror Checkoff Program.

In 1997, the Utah State Legislature enacted a statute which allows jurors to donate their $17.00 juror fee to the CASA volunteer program. In order to make jurors aware of the donation option, court clerks distribute to jurors a flier which describes the CASA program and instructs jurors on how they may donate the $17.00 fee. If a juror chooses to donate, a clerk processes the bearer checks into the appropriate accounts.

The CASA program is operated by the judiciary's Office of the Guardian Ad Litem. The program assists children who are victims of child abuse or neglect. In appropriate cases, the court appoints a volunteer to work with one child to help that child through the court system. CASA volunteers occasionally appear as witnesses. The juror donations and other funds are used to train the volunteers who assist the children.

The concerns addressed by the Board of District Court Judges are that the judges are impermissibly engaged in fund-raising, and that the donation program creates the appearance of partiality. Canon 4C(3)(b) states that a judge "shall not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund raising activities." This canon has been strictly interpreted. Judges are prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in fund raising. See Jeffrey M. Shaman et al., Judicial Conduct and Ethics, 291 (2d ed. 1995). For instance, judges are prohibited from direct fund raising, such as requesting funds for the Boy Scouts of America. Federal Advisory Comm. on Judicial Activities, Advisory Op. No. 32 (March 4, 1974). Judges are also prohibited from indirect fund raising, such as sitting in a "dunking booth" at a fund raising event. Informal Opinion 89-8.

Because of the legislative enactment and the manner in which the program is structured, the CASA donation program is unique when compared to other fund-raising activities typically considered by ethics advisory committees and other authorities. The CASA donation program as presently constituted may or may not constitute indirect fund-raising by judges but, at the very least, the program creates the appearance of fund-raising and may compromise the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

Canon 2A states that "A judge . . . should exhibit conduct that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary." Promoting the impartiality of the judiciary is an obligation of fidelity, and is therefore imposed on both judges and court personnel. See Informal Opinion 97-6. The committee has two primary concerns with the donation program and its effect on the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

First, because the CASA donation fliers are distributed on court premises before jurors have been paid or excused, jurors who receive the donation flier may feel pressure to donate. This perceived pressure may be compounded by the fact that CASA is clearly a court-sponsored or court-related program, and it alone is singled out for special consideration by the jurors. The coercive effect of the donation program undermines the integrity of the judiciary. When prospective jurors enter courthouses they do not expect to be solicited for donations, least of all by the judicial system for a judicial branch program. Prospective jurors anticipate playing a role in the judicial system and do not anticipate being viewed as a funding source for a volunteer program, no matter how worthwhile.

The committee's second concern is the appearance of partiality. The impartiality of the judiciary is compromised when a person or group conveys, or is allowed to convey, the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge. See Informal Opinion 97-5 and Canon 2B. Through the juror donation plan, the CASA program occupies, or at least appears to occupy, a unique position. As the beneficiary of a court-sponsored donation arrangement, the CASA program appears to be a favored group of the judiciary. As witnesses and participants in court proceedings, CASA volunteers may be perceived by litigants or counsel as carrying special influence with the court. The CASA program must not be allowed to convey an impression that is not permitted by the Code.

In conclusion, the participation of judges and other court personnel in the CASA donation program compromises the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. The integrity of the judiciary is affected by participation of court personnel and the use of court premises in the solicitation and donation process. An appearance of partiality may result from allowing the CASA program to convey the impression that it has favored status with the judiciary. Neither court personnel nor court premises may be used in soliciting members of the public for charitable donations, even if those solicited are jurors, the amount sought is limited to the juror's statutory fee, and the intended beneficiary is a program for which the judiciary is ultimately responsible.