Thursday, May 25, 2023
The California Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions (CJEO) invites public comment on a draft formal opinion addressing whether a judicial officer may attend a celebration hosted by a law firm.
In CJEO Draft Formal Opinion 2023-024, the committee generally advises judicial officers not to attend law firm celebrations because doing so could violate several canons in the Code of Judicial Ethics, including: the prohibitions against suggesting judicial bias or special influence over a judicial officer;
the prohibition against lending prestige to advance someone’s pecuniary or personal interests; and
the prohibition against accepting gifts, absent certain exceptions.
The judicial officer’s presence at such celebrations, the committee explains, may suggest the judicial officer has a special relationship with or endorses the law firm, which may undermine public confidence in the judicial officer’s fairness in cases where the law firm appears.
However, the committee said there may be exceptions. For example, it is generally permissible to attend an adult child’s or spouse’s law firm celebration because the judicial officer would already be disqualified from hearing matters involving the law firm and exceptions to the gift prohibition apply. There is also no prohibition against attending bar association events sponsored by law firms.
The committee’s Invitation to Comment is posted on CJEO’s recently updated website. Comments are due by July 10, and may be submitted by CJEO’s online comment form, by email to Judicial.Ethics@jud.ca.gov