Informal Opinion 03-1
June 11, 2003

Question: A judge may maintain membership in a cycling club that is sponsored, in part, by a law firm. The law firm= s logo is represented on the cycling club= s jersey.

Answer: The judge may continue club membership and wear the club jersey.

Discussion: The judge is currently a member of a bicycling club. The club offers members the opportunity to train and compete with other cyclists. Every year, the club distributes a new jersey to each cyclist to recognize club membership. When the judge received his jersey for this year, he discovered that the jersey includes the logo of a local law firm. The judge subsequently learned that the law firm has contributed six hundred dollars to the club. The funds are used to help cover certain club costs, such as the expenses the club incurs in sponsoring a race, assisting junior riders, and paying for replacement jerseys. The judge does not receive the benefit of any of the funds.

The judge= s questions are governed by Canon 2B and Canon 4A. Canon 2B states that A a judge shall not lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.@ Canon 4A states that

A judge shall conduct the judge= s extra-judicial activities so that they do not: (1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge= s capacity to act impartially as a judge; (2) demean the judicial office; (3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties; or (4) exploit the judge= s judicial position.

Membership in a cycling club is an activity that is generally permitted under the Code. Judges are permitted and encouraged to engage in these types of activities. The questions for the committee are whether the law firm= s sponsorship of the cycling club, or whether the display of the law firm= s logo on the jersey, conveys the impression that the firm is in a special position to influence the judge, or casts reasonable doubt on the judge= s capacity to act impartially. The Committee believes that membership is permitted in the cycling club, even under the conditions described.

Canon 2B= s prohibition has received attention by this Committee when discussing interactions between judges and attorneys. The committee has stated, for instance, that judges may teach groups of attorneys who practice in one area of the law (such as prosecuting attorneys,) without impinging Canon 2B= s prohibition. See Informal Opinion 99-6. One-sided interactions are permitted and do not automatically convey the impression that attorneys are in a special position to influence.

The Judicial Council has permitted judges to ethically engage in social interactions with attorneys, on a regular basis, without violating Canon 2B or Canon 4. In Formal Opinion 99-6, the Council recognized that the Code permits interaction and relationships between judges and attorneys because there is an important connection between the bench and the bar. The Council recognized that judges may engage in regular interactions with bar members, such as going to lunch together and attending law firm open houses and bar functions, without automatically risking the partiality of the judiciary. The Council also recognized that judges may accept ordinary social hospitality from attorneys, such as receipt of a free meal.

The Committee= s and Council= s opinions have recognized, directly or indirectly, that because of the connection between the bench and the bar, a judge is able to engage in social and professional interactions without automatically creating an impression that the judge= s impartiality might be compromised. The Committee is aware that judges often attend activities that are sponsored by law firms or members of the bar, such as CLE classes and bar convention socials, without those situations creating the impression that the law firm or attorney is in a special position to influence or that the judge might somehow favor that law firm or attorney. Because those situations are permitted, the Committee believes that the facts related to the cycling club would not create an impression of favoritism or partiality by the judge.

The law firm= s sponsorship of the cycling club is minimal as far as the judge is concerned. The law firm= s sponsorship is not based in any way on the judge= s membership in the club. The judge does not personally receive or benefit from any of the funds. The situation does not create a reasonable perception of allegiance by the judge toward the law firm. Membership in the cycling club is therefore permitted under the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The Committee also does not believe that wearing the jersey with the law firm logo creates any ethical difficulties. The jersey is a uniform that is worn by all club members. The jersey will be worn in settings in which members of the public will not automatically associate the judge with the law firm. The jersey is reasonably seen as recognizing the club sponsors and not as otherwise creating loyalty by individual club members to the sponsors. As previously noted, judges engage in other public settings in which law firms publically sponsor activities and these settings do not create any association problems for the judges. The Committee therefore believes that the judge may maintain membership in the cycling club and wear the jersey that has been distributed for use by club members.