Informal Opinion 98-15
October 28, 1998

An active senior judge has asked the Ethics Advisory Committee whether it would be appropriate to act as a master of ceremonies at a “Meet the Candidates Night” sponsored by a local PTA.

The active senior judge has been asked to serve as master of ceremonies at a gathering which is intended to introduce political candidates to the public. The gathering is advertised as a nonpartisan event, although “bipartisan” may be a more accurate characterization, and the sponsor of the event will not be endorsing or otherwise indicating support for any particular candidate. In acting as master of ceremonies, the judge would not be required to make any partisan remarks or representations.

Canon 5B(3) states that “a judge . . . shall not . . . attend political gatherings.” 1 The Committee is of the opinion that this canon not only prohibits the judge from acting as a master of ceremonies at the Meet the Candidates Night, but also prohibits the judge from attending such a gathering.

Although the “Meet the Candidates Night” will be a bipartisan event, the Code does not distinguish among partisan, nonpartisan and bipartisan political gatherings. The Code, in unambiguous terms, applies to any event which is political in nature. Because the purpose of the Meet the Candidates Night is to provide a forum for candidates to elaborate on their political stands, the event is a political gathering and judges may not attend.

Our conclusion is consistent with an ethics advisory opinion from at least one other state. The New York Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics, in Opinion 88-129, stated that a judge should not attend a social function at which school board candidates would be speaking. The election and the social event were nonpartisan, but that committee found that because political philosophies would be espoused at the event, it would be considered a political gathering. The committee is of the opinion that judges may not attend any events which are political in purpose, even if those events are bipartisan or nonpartisan.


1Canon 5C provides a limited exception for judges up for reappointment or retention election if the “candidate . . . has drawn active public opposition.” In particular, “[t]he candidate may speak to public gatherings on the candidate’s own behalf.”