Informal Opinion 99-6
September 23,1999

Question: A judge has asked the Ethics Advisory Committee whether the judge may speak at a
conference of the Attorney General's Office.

Answer: The judge may participate in the conference provided the judge does not give legal advice, comment on pending cases, or show improper biases, and provided the judge is willing and available if requested to speak to groups of attorneys who handle cases adverse to the Attorney General's Office.

Discussion: The judge who has requested the opinion has been invited to speak at a CLE conference of the Attorney General's Office. The judge will participate on a panel with other judges. The judges have been asked to speak on "Bench Trial Basics." The audience will be limited to attorneys and staff of the Attorney General's Office.

Canon 4B states that "[a] judge may speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other extra-judicial activities concerning the law, the legal system, the administration of justice and non-legal topics subject to the requirements of this Code." Judges often receive invitations to speak and teach about the legal system and legal topics. These invitations typically involve bar conferences or CLE classes in which the audience is diverse. Judges are encouraged to accept these invitations to assist in a better educated bar and an improved legal system.

Canon 2A states that a judge "should exhibit conduct that provides public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the bar." When teaching and speaking, a judge must not undermine public confidence in the impartiality and integrity of the judiciary. The Attorney General's Office has many divisions and areas of practice. However, the divisions represent one side in litigation. For instance, the criminal division focuses on prosecution and the litigation division focuses on defense. Because the office represents only one side of litigation, the question that arises in this case is whether a judge may instruct a group that represents only a single adversarial component of the legal system.

The Ethics Advisory Committee has previously discussed a judge's ability to participate in training and education programs. In Informal Opinion 88-5 the Committee discussed three relevant factors in determining whether participation is permitted. The first factor is whether the program is attended by all components of the justice system. The second factor is whether the program is in a small geographic area such that the persons attending the program are likely to appear in the judge's courtroom. The third factor is the subject matter of the course. The first factor is relevant to this situation.

In Informal Opinion 88-5, this Committee determined that a judge was prohibited from teaching a course on proper courtroom demeanor to law enforcement officers. The Committee was concerned that such activity might "create the appearance of impropriety or convey the impression that peace officers are in a position of special influence with the judge." We have cited Informal Opinion 88-5 in other opinions discussing judicial interaction with law enforcement. For instance, in Informal Opinion 89-9 we stated that a judge could not teach a class on recent criminal decisions to law enforcement officers, and in Informal Opinion 97-5 we stated that a judge may not attend a law enforcement checkpoint or ride-along.

The previous ethics advisory opinions have not discussed single component interaction in educational settings involving only attorneys. The Committee must now determine whether judges may engage in teaching activities directed toward groups of attorneys who represent a single component of the justice system.

In deciding this question, the Committee has reviewed advisory opinions from other states to determine their treatment of single component interaction. The Committee has not identified any ethics opinions which prohibit judges from educating a group of attorneys that represent a single component of the system. Those states that have directly discussed the issue have determined other means to address the partiality concern. The Maryland Judicial Ethics Committee in opinion 116, held that a judge may accept an invitation to educate one group of attorneys as long as the judge is willing and available to accept an invitation from a competing group. The Oregon Judicial Conduct Committee, in Opinion 87-3, stated that an appearance of impropriety is not a concern because attorneys can discern the judge's role in the education process. Judges are serving to improve the bar. Other states appear to allow educational opportunities, while placing restrictions on the content of the education. These restrictions include:

  1. prohibiting comment on pending cases; 
  2. prohibiting the giving of legal advice; and
  3. prohibiting judges from giving opinions that would indicate biases as to how particular cases would be decided by the judge.

After reviewing the ethics opinions from other states, the Committee believes that the single component interaction prohibition should not be extended to educational settings involving attorneys. In making this conclusion, the Committee is also mindful of the conclusions of Formal Opinion 98-1. In that opinion, the Judicial Council stated that private social interaction between attorneys and judges is permitted, except on actual trial days. In making this conclusion, the Council noted the important interaction between members of the bench and members of the bar. If social interaction is permitted between judges and members of the bar who represent a single component of the bar, then educational opportunities should be encouraged.

The judge may therefore accept the invitation from the Attorney General's Office under the following conditions:

  1. the judge is willing and available to accept invitations from groups of attorneys who represent other components of the legal system in cases involving the Attorney General's Office;
  2. the judge does not give legal advice; 
  3. the judge does not comment on pending cases; and
  4. the judge does not offer opinions that would indicate biases or a prejudgment of certain types of cases.