A sampling of recent judicial ethics advisory opinions

  • When an appellate justice learns that a staff member has posted a comment on social media that violates the canons of judicial ethics, the justice should immediately take steps to remedy the violation, including at a minimum requiring the staff member to take all reasonable steps to have the post taken down and removed from the public domain. If the justice learns that an improper comment has been viewed by the public, republished, or otherwise disseminated, the justice should, depending on the circumstances, instruct the staff member to correct or repudiate the comment on social media, particularly if the comment is demeaning, offensive, or otherwise undermines the dignity of the court.  California Oral Advice Summary 2020-37
  • A judge may permit his law clerk to participate in peaceful Black Lives Matter protests away from the courthouse during non-working hours, but must instruct the clerk not to carry signs calling for the arrest or prosecution of the police officers involved in the Breonna Taylor shooting and not to remain with any protestors engaging in vandalism or violence. New York Opinion 2020-141.
  • A judge may display photographs and other memorabilia of current and former elected federal officials in her chambers but must be mindful of the content, context, and circumstances of the display to avoid any appearance of impropriety. New York Opinion 2020-101.
  • A court may include on its approved arbitrator list and guardian ad litem registry an attorney who is married to a judge on the court as long as protocols are followed to ensure that there is no appearance of impropriety, nepotism, or favoritism. Washington Opinion 2020-6.  
  • A judge or group of judges may sign a proposed resolution urging judges to remain vigilant in their efforts to keep racial bias out of the justice system and may submit the resolution for consideration to the chief judge of their circuit and to the Florida Supreme Court. Florida Opinion 2020-18. 
  • Judges may use court letterhead for any correspondence related to the appropriate exercise of the judicial office, including educational outreach and civic leadership activities. Alaska Opinion 2020-1.
  • A judge may not voluntarily write a letter of support on behalf of any litigants in any civil or criminal matter pending or impending in any court or administrative venue, including any judge or lawyer disciplinary proceeding. West Virginia Opinion 2020-25
  • A judicial official may not provide a letter of recommendation to the governor’s legal counsel at the request of a candidate seeking a judicial appointment but may be listed as a reference for the candidate and, if requested by the governor’s legal counsel, may provide a written or oral recommendation, subject to conditions. Connecticut Informal Opinion 2020-4.  
  • A judge may not submit a letter to a newspaper or bar association newsletter that accuses a named elected federal official who is currently running for re-election of undermining the rule of law, blames recent civil unrest on that official’s policies and philosophies, and criticizes the official’s policies. New York Opinion 2020-90
  • A judge may speak to an ethnic/cultural affinity group of employees in the prosecutor’s office about the judge’s experience as a prosecutor and career path and the court system’s adaptation to virtual operations. New York Opinion 2020-131.
  • A judge may write the biography of a noted attorney that includes accounts of criminal events and judicial decisions that may reflect negatively on the judicial system at the time. The judge may post the release date for the book on Facebook or other social media and participate in book promotions and speaking engagements in Florida or other states.  Florida Opinion 2020-21.  
  • A judge may write a book review of a friend’s novel and post it online without mentioning her judicial position provided the purpose is not to promote sales of the book. The judge must not authorize use of the review on the book jacket or elsewhere to promote sales of the book.  New York Opinion 2020-85.
  • A judge, judge’s family members, and staff members may accept gifts that are considered ordinary social hospitality but should not accept any gifts from persons who may appear before the judge or gifts presented with no reasonable expectation the judge will reciprocate. Ordinary social hospitality includes, for example, food or a bottle of wine presented by a houseguest; the purchase of a meal by a friend or colleague with the reasonable expectation that it will be reciprocated; mutual gift exchanges, such as holiday or birthday gifts of comparable value; and produce from a home garden if it is reciprocated.  Examples of gifts that would not be considered ordinary social hospitality include tickets to concerts, shows, sporting events, or fundraising events and gifts that are of significant value, such as use of a vacation home or time-share and expensive gifts from a lobbyist or vendor.  Michigan Opinion JI-146 (2020).
  • A judge may purchase raffle tickets at a charity auction. Florida Opinion 2020-19
  • A judge who is on the board of directors of a non-profit organization that supports and promotes musicians may not write a letter in support of the foundation’s application for grants from local and state governments. Florida Opinion 2020-17.
  • A judge may serve on the board of a non-profit organization that supports the historic preservation of buildings, makes recommendations for the establishment of historical districts, supports rehabilitation projects, and provides loans to organizations with similar goals. New York Opinion 2020-109.
  • A judge who wishes to be a member or leader of a non-profit organization that allows only women to be general members with voting authority and advocates for the Black Lives Matter movement and promotes U.S. Census participation by African-Americans and the expansion of literacy and technology resources in the community must determine if the organization invidiously discriminates, engages in partisan political activity, or will insert the judge unnecessarily into controversial lobbying, advocacy, or litigation. If some of the organization’s activities are clearly permissible and some are potentially controversial, a judge may only be a regular member and may not serve in a leadership position.  New York Opinion 2020-128
  • A judge may become a dues-paying member of the NAACP. Florida Opinion 2020-22.
  • A judge may not accept appointment to a federal health agency’s advisory council on improving public health among minority populations. New York Opinion 2020-146
  • A judge may participate on an exploratory committee formed by the public defender and the district attorney to consider the creation of a district court system in her county. New York Opinion 2020-147.
  • A circuit court judge may not serve as a regional judicial outreach liaison, a part-time paid position with the American Bar Association Judicial Division related to driving while under the influence laws, which is part of a cooperative agreement between the ABA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Wyoming Opinion 2020-1

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