Informal Opinion 06-4
June 19, 2006

Question: A juvenile court judge has asked whether he may participate on a panel designed to train foster parents.

Answer: The judge may participate as long as the panel consists of representation from the entities involved in juvenile court cases.

Discussion: In the opinion request, the juvenile court judge explains that the Division of Child and Family Services sponsors a yearly panel to train foster parents. The panel consists of a judge, a representative from the attorney general’s office, a guardian ad litem, and a parent’s counsel representative. Foster parents do not automatically have standing in abuse, neglect, and dependency cases, but they may come before the court based on a desire to adopt, or based on other interests. The judge asks whether he may ethically participate on this panel.

Canon 4C(4) states that “as a part of the judicial role, a judge is encouraged to render public service to the community. Judges have a professional responsibility to educate the public about the judicial system and the judicial office, subject to the requirements of this code.” Canon 4C(4)(a) states that “a judge may speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other extra-judicial activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.” These canons encourage and permit a judge to educate others about the law and the legal system.

In participating in these activities, a judge must comply with Canon 4A which states that a judge “shall conduct the judge’s extra-judicial activities so that they do not: (1) cast reasonable doubt on a 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.” A judge must ensure that the judge’s extra-judicial educational activities do not cast doubt on the judge’s impartiality or demean the judicial office. Based on the information provided to the Committee, the Committee determines that the proposed activity does not cast doubt on the judge’s impartiality or demean the judicial office, and therefore the judge may participate.

In previous opinions, we have cautioned judges against participating in activities in which only a single component of the judicial system is present. For example, in Informal Opinion 88-5, we stated that a judge should not teach peace officers about the Utah Code and proper courtroom demeanor, because this may create the appearance that law enforcement officers are in a special position of influence. Law enforcement officers are on one side of a legal dispute and a judge cannot be viewed as aligning him or herself with one side of dispute. We have stated, however, that judges may participate in extra-judicial activities in which all of the components of the system are represented. For example, in Informal Opinion 98-4, we discussed whether a judge could serve as a member of the advisory board for the Salt Lake County Children’s Justice Center. In finding that a judge could participate, we noted that it was important that the advisory board consisted of broad representation of individuals and entities involved in juvenile justice. Similarly, in Informal Opinion 98-6, we stated that a judge could participate on a domestic violence coalition as long as (among other considerations) the coalition included representatives from the various entities dealing with domestic violence.

The fact that the Division of Child and Family Services panel consists of representative components of juvenile court cases is important. Because of this broad representation, the judge’s participation would not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially, nor would it otherwise demean the judicial office. The panel appears to be an excellent opportunity for the judge to comply with the ethical obligation to engage in public outreach. The judge must make certain that his comments on the panel do not compromise impartiality, but the participation is otherwise acceptable.