Informal Opinion 07-1
January 22, 2007

Question: A part-time justice court judge has asked whether he may serve on a school traffic safety committee.

Answer: The judge may serve, but should avoid any actual conflicts.

Discussion: Utah Code Ann. § 53A-3-402(17) states that each local school board is to establish a traffic safety committee. The statute states that the purpose of a traffic safety committee is to:

(i) receive suggestions from parents, teachers and others and recommend school traffic safety improvements, boundary changes to enhance safety, and school traffic safety program measures;

(ii) review and submit annually to the Department of Transportation and affected municipalities and counties a child access routing plan for each elementary, middle, and junior high school within the district;

(iii) consult the Utah Safety Council and the Division of Family Health Services and provide training to all school children in kindergarten through grade six, within the district, on school crossing safety and use; and

(iv) help ensure the district’s compliance with rules made by the Department of Transportation .

The composition of a traffic safety committee includes representatives from the schools and the district and the parent teacher associations of the schools within the district, a representative of the municipality or county, and law enforcement and traffic safety engineering representatives. § 53A-3-402(17)(b). The justice court judge has not yet been appointed to the committee. However, he will be seeking an appointment and therefore asks whether such an appointment is permitted under the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Canon 4C(2), which discusses a judge’s ability to accept an appointment to a governmental committee or commission, does not apply to part-time justice court judges. In Informal Opinion 00-2, the committee stated that “exempting part-time justice court judges from Canon 4C(2) is intended to permit these judges to participate in governmental service beyond governmental boards that are concerned solely with the law and the legal system.” In that opinion, the committee stated that a part-time justice court judge could accept an appointment to a local school district board of education (subject to the judge consulting with legal advisors about whether service would be constitutional).

Based on our decision in Informal Opinion 00-2, the committee is similarly of the opinion that a part-time justice court judge may accept appointment to a traffic safety committee established by a local school board. In making this determination, the committee has also considered the judge’s obligations under Canon 1, Canon 2 and Canon 4A. A judge is required to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. A judge cannot engage in extra judicial activities that cast doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially, demean the judicial office, interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties, or exploit the judge’s judicial position.

As a justice court judge, the judge undoubtedly presides over many traffic cases. As a committee member, the judge would also be dealing with traffic matters. Although there is a potential for some conflict between the two duties, the committee believes that the potential is remote as the judge’s duties as a judge and as a committee member would not directly overlap or conflict. The traffic safety committee’s duties involve safety plans for children and making recommendations to schools to enhance child safety through programs, boundary changes and other improvements. On its face, we do not think that these duties would impact the judge’s ability to act impartial as a judge. The issues handled by the traffic safety committee would rarely if ever come directly before the judge. However, if the judge has a case before the court that directly or indirectly involves any of the duties of the traffic safety committee, the judge must enter disqualification in that case. If disqualification becomes relatively frequent, the judge must step down as a traffic safety committee member.

As a committee member, the judge must also comply with Canon 4C(3). The judge may not engage in fund-raising or membership solicitation. The judge is also prohibited from acting as a legal advisory. Again, as stated above, if the judge frequently encounters conflicts, the judge must resign from the committee.