You have requested the Professional Guidance Committee to evaluate the following inquiry:
Is it proper for an organization of trial attorneys, which represents one segment of the Bar, to entertain judges at its annual outing? A subsidiary question is whether it would create an appearance of impropriety to do so.
In your inquiry, you indicated that the outing takes place at a country club, with the first half of the day dedicated to a seminar, and the second half spent in recreational activities, culminating in a cocktail party. The judges are to be invited as guests for the entire day's activities.
It is the opinion of the Committee that there is nothing in the Rules of Professional Conduct (effective April 1, 1988) or the Code of Judicial Conduct which would prohibit the activities which you describe. Nevertheless, we would like to offer some observations raised during our deliberations.
The Rules of Professional Conduct do not directly address the inquiry. However, we direct your attention to Rule 3.5 and Rule 8.4(f).
Rule 3.5 deals with the need to insure that lawyers do not attempt to improperly influence a judge. For example, lawyers are prohibited from communicating ex parse with a judge. Although there is no suggestion in your inquiry that this will occur, lawyers in your organization should be sensitive to this issue when a judge before whom they have a pending matter attends your conference.
Rule 8.4(f) prohibits a lawyer from knowingly assisting a judge in conduct which violates the rules of judicial conduct. Again, we do not envision your organization doing this; nevertheless, we bring to your attention the applicable rules of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Canon 2B of the Code of Judicial Conduct (which, for purposes of an inquiry such as this, must be read in conjunction with the rules governing lawyers' conduct) provides that a judge should not lend the prestige of his office to advance the private interests of others. So long as the judge is not participating in an activity whereby his or her presence or conduct can reasonably be interpreted as an attempt to ascribe official support for, or endorsement of, a particular group, this Canon does not present a problem.
While the Committee did not consider the invitation to attend as a guest a matter involving compensation to a judge for quasi-judicial activities, the Committee did review Canon 6 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. It allows compensation for such activities -
if the source of such payments does not give the appearance of influencing the judge in his judicial duties or otherwise give the appearance of impropriety....
Moreover, it permits expense reimbursements - limited to the actual cost of travel, food, and lodging reasonably incurred by the judge and, where appropriate to the occasion, by his spouse.
This Canon would be more relevant in cases where a judge is asked to sit as a panel member, or give a lecture, at a seminar like the one you describe. To the extent this should occur you should be guided accordingly by Canon 6.
As noted at the outset, it is the Committee's opinion that the judges' attendance at the outing is not a violation of any express provision of the Rules of Professional Conduct or the Code of Judicial Conduct. Moreover, much of the Committee's discussion was focused upon the desirability of continued communications and contact between Bench and Bar, and the benefits to the profession that have traditionally resulted from such communications. It is for these reasons that programs such as yours should be continued.