Informal Opinion 98-2
January 26, 1998

An assistant court administrator has asked the Ethics Advisory Committee whether the administrator may serve on the committee in charge of, and as the coordinator for, the annual State Charitable Fund Drive.

Utah State Government annually conducts a charity fund drive among government employees. During the drive, every state employee receives a pamphlet listing the charities to which donations may be made and the options for donating. None of the charities are sponsored by the Utah judiciary and few have any connection to legal issues. A committee of state employees facilitates the fund raising. Each year one state employee is designated to chair the committee. The position rotates among representatives from the executive, legislative and judicial branches. The duties of the chair include contacting department heads about the fund drive, coordinating the activities of the committee, and encouraging high rates of giving. As the chair of the committee, the court administrator will be required to send letters to various persons. The letters will include the chair's name and title, and will be on letterhead of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

In Informal Opinion 97-6 we stated that nonjudicial court employees are required to follow those Code of Judicial Conduct provisions which impose obligations of fidelity and diligence. The obligations of fidelity and diligence insure that employees are faithful to the judiciary in the employee's professional duties. The code provision on fund-raising, Canon 4C(3)(b), states that "a judge ... shall not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities." The Committee is of the opinion that the fund-raising prohibition is not expressly an obligation of fidelity and diligence. Court employees are therefore not automatically excluded from fund-raising. The prohibition against fund raising is personal to judges, and court employees should be free to engage in fund-raising activities unless those activities implicate the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

Although the fund-raising prohibition is personal to judges, other court personnel are sometimes circumscribed in their fund-raising activities when they belong to organizations in which judges are associated. Such persons may conduct fund-raising only as long as a judge is not directly or indirectly involved, and as long as the activities do not carry the prestige of the judicial office or affect the integrity or impartiality of the judiciary. Seee.g., Informal Opinion 88-4.

In Informal Opinion 97-9, we stated that court employees may not participate in certain fund-raising activities for the judiciary's CASA volunteer program. Participation was prohibited because potential jurors were placed in the difficult position of being solicited on court premises by court personnel for a court-sponsored project. The Committee was concerned that potential jurors may have felt undue pressure to donate, and urging citizens required under process of law to serve as jurors to donate their statutory fees to help fund a court program was improper.

However, the state's charitable fund drive is readily distinguishable from the CASA donation program. The integrity of the judiciary is not impacted through the charity fund drive. Those solicited are solicited only because they are state employees, the vast majority of whom are not court employees, and not because of any special relationship to the judiciary. There is no captive audience, similar to the jurors, and the prestige of the judiciary is not being used to promote the fund drive. So long as the letterhead used does not bear the name or title of a judge (the committee notes that standard AOC letterhead does bear the name and title of the chief justice), recipients of fund drive communications can not reasonably perceive that judges are involved, or that the prestige of a judge or judicial office is being used. On the contrary, given the history and organization of the fund drive, the participation by the assistant court administrator would clearly be in the capacity of a state employee rather than as a representative of the judiciary.

In conclusion, the assistant court administrator may serve as a committee member and coordinator of the State Charitable Fund Drive. Court facilities and the prestige of the judiciary are not being used to prey upon a captive audience, and the focus is not to raise funds for a judiciary program. The administrator is performing a function in his role as a state employee, and not as a representative of the judiciary or of judges. The judiciary is simply taking its turn in furnishing a state employee to coordinate the efforts to encourage charitable giving by state employees.