Informal Opinion 99-11
December 8, 1999

Question: A district court judge has asked the Ethics Advisory Committee whether the judge may serve as a domestic violence commissioner for the Navajo Nation courts.

Answer: The judge may serve as a domestic violence commissioner provided the service does not interfere with the judge’s duties as a state court judge.

Discussion: A district court judge has been asked to serve as a domestic violence commissioner for the Navajo Nation courts. The Navajo Nation boundaries extend through Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. While there are various court sites within the Navajo Nation, there is no court site within the Utah state boundaries. As a domestic violence commissioner, the district court judge will conduct hearings involving Navajo Nation members that include a mixture of state and tribal law. The district court judge will provide recommendations to a Navajo Nation judge, who will issue a final order. State facilities will be used for conducting these hearings, but the district court judge anticipates less than one filing per month.

There are two Canons implicated by the opinion request. Canon 3A states that "the judicial duties of a full-time judge take precedence over all the judge’s other activities." Canon 4C limits a judge’s extra-judicial activities to matters concerned with "the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice." Because the amount of time spent on the Navajo Nation cases will not be significant, the Committee does not believe that such service will interfere with the judge’s full-time judicial duties. However, if the number of cases reach a point when the judge’s state judicial duties are impacted, the judge would be required to re-evaluate the situation. The Committee is also of the opinion that the judge’s service is consistent with the limitations of Canon 4C. The judge’s service to the Navajo Nation would help improve the administration of justice.

In Opinion 93-2, the Arizona Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee addressed whether "state court judges [may] serve . . . as visiting trial judges or appellate judges on Indian Tribal courts." The committee determined that such service was not prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct, and was, in fact, an important means of improving the relationship between state and tribal courts. While the fact situation is somewhat different in this matter, the same principles apply. If a state judge can travel to the Navajo Nation and preside over cases in the Navajo Nation court, a judge could similarly hear cases involving Navajo Nation issues in the state court facilities. The Committee agrees that this is an important service and helps improve the relations between the two sovereign jurisdictions.