October 7, 1976
Re: Canons 4 and 5
This is in response to your recent letter inquiring whether it would permissible for a judge to participate in efforts to educate the general public about constitutional amendment No. 2 on the question of merit retention of Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges appearing on the general election ballot, November 2, 1976.
In particular, you indicate that you are desirous of speaking and writing in favor of the adoption of the merit retention amendment, and, in particular, you inquire about the propriety of appearing before nonpartisan groups and organizations and to discuss the merits of the adoption of the amendments in general especially in public gatherings of any and all and varieties; except partisan political party meetings.
The Committee has reviewed your inquiry and, with a majority responding, is unanimously of the opinion that such activity is not prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct. In particular, Canons 4 and 5 seem to encourage the participation of judges in those activities which are designed to improve the law, the legal system and the administration of justice. (see Canon 4A and B, and Canon 5A)
The Commentary to Canons 4 and 5, hereinafter set forth, reflects the spirit and intent of the Canons relating to a judge's quasi-judicial activities:
"As a quasi-judicial officer and person specially learned in the law, a judge is in a unique position to contribute to the improvement of the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, including revision of substantive and procedural law and improvement of criminal and juvenile justice. To the extent that his time permits, he is encouraged to do so, either independently or through a bar association, judicial conference, or other organization dedicated to the improvement of the law."
It should be noted that Opinion 74-3, April 11, 1974, previously rendered by this Committee is distinguishable from the instant situation. There the Committee held that it would be unethical for a judge to explain the new Article V judicial system to a partisan political party meeting. The inquiry herein relates to appearances in public gatherings of all types except partisan political meetings.
We appreciate your interest and trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.
Chairman, Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Participating members: Boyer, Carlisle, Murphee, O'Connell, Stephenson and Thomas MacDonald, Esquire