January 28, 1993
Membership in the ABA
You have inquired whether it is proper for a judge to be a member of the American Bar Association because you believe that organization actively espouses or promotes positions on political issues or matters of controversy that are or may become subjects for judicial determination. In particular, you believe the ABA at its last annual meeting passed a resolution that calls for the ABA to actively intervene in court cases and legislative debates relative to abortion rights and fetal viability.
Canon 4C specifically states that a judge may serve as a member, officer or director of an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice.
All participating Committee members agree that judicial membership in the ABA is proper because the ABA is an organization devoted to the cited goals in Canon 4C. Also, the Committee is not aware of any ABA intervention or participation in a law suit that might impair any appearance of judicial impartiality.
Several Committee members cite the commentary to Canon 5B(1), to-wit:
The changing nature of some organizations and of their relationship to the law makes it necessary for a judge regularly to reexamine the activities of each organization with which he is affiliated to determine if it is proper for him to continue his relationship with it.
These Committee members believe that, if the ABA actively intervenes in court cases or involves itself in high profile political issues and controversies that impair the perception of impartiality, continued membership in the ABA may be properly questioned.
Three Committee members believe a judge may properly belong to a multifaceted organization, although a judge cannot participate in a certain aspect of organizational activity. One Committee member states, for example, that a judge could belong to the Catholic church despite its vocal public position on abortion. Another Committee member states a judge could properly belong to the National Rifle Association because of his interest in hunting even though that organization takes a highly public position on gun control.
The committee is expressly charged with rendering advisory opinions interpreting the application of the Code of Judicial Conduct to specific circumstances confronting or affecting a judge or judicial candidate. Its opinions are advisory to the inquiring party, to the Judicial Qualifications Commission and to the judiciary at large. Conduct that is consistent with an advisory opinion issued by the committee may be evidence of good faith on the part of the judge, but the Judicial Qualifications Commission is not bound by the interpretive opinions issued by the committee. Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct for Judges, 327 So2d 5 (Fla.1976).
With regards, I remain,
Yours very truly,
Harvey Goldstein, Chairman
Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
cc: All Committee Members
Participating members: Judges Tolton, Green, Booth, Levy , Doughtie, Goldstein, Farina, Rushing
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