Informal Opinion 98-4
June 30, 1998

The Ethics Advisory Committee has been asked by a judge whether it is appropriate to serve as a member of the advisory board for the Salt Lake County Children's Justice Center and the State Advisory Board for Children's Justice Centers. The Committee referred the request to the Judicial Council pursuant to Rule 3-109(6), Utah Code of Judicial Administration. In accordance with that provision the Council opted not to issue a formal opinion and instead "[a]pproved . . . the opinion . . . as initially drafted" and "direct[ed] the Committee to release the opinion . . . as an informal opinion of the Committee." Id. 3-109(6)(A).

Children's Justice Centers are established pursuant to Utah Code Ann. 67-5b-102. The purpose of the justice centers is generally described as "[a] program that provides a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary, non-profit, intergovernmental response to sexual abuse of children and serious physical abuse of children." Children's Justice Center Advisory Boards are established pursuant to Utah Code Ann. 67-5b-105 and 106. The membership of the Boards, as designated by statute, consists of professionals throughout the juvenile justice community, including law enforcement, medical professionals, prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys. The Advisory Board's duties include: recommending statewide guidelines for the administration of the Children's Justice Program; advising the contracting entities of each Children's Justice Center; making recommendations on training and improvements in training; reviewing, evaluating and making recommendations concerning the handling of child abuse, child sexual abuse and child neglect cases; making recommendations to improve the prompt and fair resolution of court proceedings; and making recommendations to change state laws and procedures to better protect children from abuse, sexual abuse and neglect.

Canon 4C(2) permits service by a judge on a governmental board that is concerned with "the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice." In Informal Opinion 94-2 we stated that "each governmental committee and commission has unique functions and mandates . . . [and] each must be examined independently to determine whether service is appropriate under the Code." We cautioned that statutory authority which is too broadly written may be cause for rejecting committee membership. We also stated that if a committee can effectively limit its focus to the three purposes permitted under the Code, judges may serve on the committee. If the focus can not be so limited, service is not appropriate even if much of the committee's work is within the scope of Canon 4C(2).

Nationally, some of these boards have judicial representation while many do not. Many of the boards have representatives from the executive branch only. Because there is no consistency concerning board representation, statutes and ethics opinions from other states provide little guidance in deciding whether judicial participation is ethical.

The statutory purposes of the Advisory Board are very broadly written, although focused on child abuse adjudication and related legal issues. However, the administration of children's justice is inherently a broader concept than the administration of justice in other areas. The child abuse, neglect and dependency provisions of the juvenile code, at Utah Code Ann. 78-3a-301 through 78-3a-319, indicate that child abuse and neglect cases are multi-agency concentrations. Various agencies come together through the juvenile courts to address children's issues generally. Service by a judge on a board that addresses the broad concept of children's justice is therefore permitted under the Code. The Advisory Board's duties, summarized above, would seem to be limited to children's justice issues.

However, the Committee is concerned that the Children's Justice Centers are involved in issues outside of the neutral administration of children's justice, focusing instead on successful prosecution of abusers in the adult criminal system. For instance, 67-5B-102 states that the centers shall minimize "the time and duplication of effort required to . . . prosecute" and obtain "reliable and admissible information which can be used effectively in criminal . . . proceedings." Such purposes are beyond even the broad concept of juvenile justice to the extent there is a focus on prosecution of criminal offenders in the adult system. A judge cannot assist the prosecutorial role. A judge could not therefore directly participate in the activities of the Children's Justice Centers. The Committee is concerned that the Advisory Boards, while one step removed from the centers themselves, may, in fact, focus on assisting the centers in devising programs for more effective prosecution.

Although the Advisory Board is a step removed from the specific activities of the Children's Justice Centers, the discussions of the Advisory Board will most certainly address the manner in which the Children's Justice Centers can most effectively fulfill their purposes. Accordingly, from time to time the discussions will presumably center on effective investigation and prosecution of child abusers. When the discussions of the Board primarily center on assisting the prosecutorial role, judges may not participate. In making this conclusion, the Committee recognizes that more efficient prosecutions often benefit the defense as well. For instance, preserving uncoached testimonial evidence may assist the prosection, but it may also benefit the defense. A judge would not be prohibited from participating in those types of discussions. However, in those circumstances in which the discussions focus on benefits or tactics which primarily benefit the prosecution, the judge should simply excuse him or herself from the meeting.

The Committee is ultimately of the conclusion that the Code does not prohibit a judge's service on the Children's Justice Center advisory boards. However, the judge should not participate in those discussions which focus primarily on prosecutorial tactics which do not benefit the system as a whole, or other discussions which might call into question the judiciary's essential neutrality concerning the administration of the criminal justice system.