Ethics Ruling Shows Delicate Balancing Act for Judges

by Categorized: Ethics, Law Enforcement, Legal Affairs, Public Safety Date:

Every one of the state’s judges, it can be fairly presumed, heartily opposes drunken driving. So may a judge with a especially strong record on the issue accept an award from Mothers Against Drunk Driving?

That question fell to the state Committee on Judicial Ethics after a judge was invited by MADD to receive an award and speak at the group’s annual community dinner. The judge asked the committee if it was permissible to accept the award, speak at the dinner, and make a donation to MADD equal to the value of the meal.

The committee’s answer, released earlier today: No can do.

The Committee cited judicial codes that bar judges from using the prestige of their office for personal gain, and that require judges to act in a manner “that promotes public confidence in the … impartiality of the judiciary.”

Under those codes, the dinner and award were deemed problematic for two reasons: MADD runs a program in which some first-time misdemeanor DUI offenders hear from victims of drunken drivers as part of a pre-trial diversion. Hearing from the victim panel is not mandatory, but when offenders are referred to the program, they are typically required to pay MADD a modest $75 fee.

But beyond that potential conflict, the committee wrote, MADD is a victim-advocacy group “that takes strong positions on DUI cases and lobbies actively on behalf of its interests.”

In reaching a unanimous conclusion that the judge (who is not identified) could not accept the award, the committee relied in part on a similar ruling from Florida. In a 12-year-old case, the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee ruled that accepting an award from MADD would cast doubt on the judge’s impartiality in future drunken-driving cases.

“Although MADD’s goals may be laudable,” the Florida agency wrote, “the organization appears to be heavily one-sided in nature as it identifies itself as a victim support as a victim support and advocacy group.”

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12 thoughts on “Ethics Ruling Shows Delicate Balancing Act for Judges

  1. Kim

    don’t judges have personal lives as well? Where does their right to participate in groups such as MADD come into the picture? Because they are judges, are they to be disallowed from becoming members of any and every organization?

    I’m not a big MADD fan, but part of the problem with our politics today is what has to be given up to become a ‘public servant’

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