1994-07: Award Conferred by Voluntary Association

Opinion No. 94-7

March 22, 1994

TOPIC: Judge's nomination for an award to be conferred by a voluntary association.

DIGEST: A judge is prohibited from becoming a nominee for an association's award, where the award is contingent on the judge's blanket endorsement of legislation and the funding of programs advocated by the association.

REFERENCES: Illinois Supreme Court Rule 65B of the Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 5 (145 Ill.2d R. 65); Illinois Supreme Court Rule 62A of the Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 2 (145 Ill.2d R. 62); Illinois Supreme Court Rule 63A(6) of the Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 3 (145 Ill.2d R. 63); Illinois Supreme Court Rule 67A(3)(d)(i) of the Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 7 (145 Ill.2d R. 67).

FACTS

The Business Professional Women (BPW) of Illinois presents an annual award entitled "The Outstanding Working Woman of Illinois Award." To be nominated for that award the nominee must sign a statement in support of the Illinois Federation of BPW and BPW/USA legislative platforms. The statement requested of the nominee includes the support of legislation and funding of programs that support such goals and objectives as the Equal Rights Amendment, elimination of sexual harassment and violence against women, reproductive choice, full access to reproductive services, etc.

QUESTION

Can a judge be a nominee for such an award, given the requirement of the judge's signing a statement endorsing the association's support of legislation and funding of programs to achieve the goals and objectives noted above?

OPINION

No. The nature of the judge's support of the BPW's agenda, a kind of carte blanche or blanket endorsement of whatever the BPW may choose to undertake regarding its goals and objectives concerning women's rights, is violative of the impartiality required of the judiciary. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 62A of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides: "A judge...should conduct himself or herself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary." The standard of impartiality required of the judiciary in their extrajudicial activities is reiterated in Illinois Supreme Court Rule 65B of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which provides: "A judge may participate in civic and charitable activities that do not reflect adversely upon the judge's impartiality...." The kind of support required of the judge in these circumstances, in order to be nominated for the BPW's award, would adversely affect the public's perception of the judge's impartiality.

Also Illinois Supreme Court Rule 63A(6) of the Code of Judicial Conduct requires a judge to "abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court...." Though this rule would not appear to be directly implicated in the circumstances of this case, it serves as an additional consideration to bolster the conclusion reached in this opinion. The judge's blanket endorsement of the BPW agenda could result in a future violation of Rule 63A(6) when some future pending or impending proceeding before the judge would have been seen to be publicly commented on by the judge's prior written endorsement.

Finally, Illinois Supreme Court Rule 67A(3)(d)(i) of the Code of Judicial Conduct requires that a candidate for judicial office "shall not make statements that commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies or issues within cases that are likely to come before the court...." Sitting judges should not be held to a lesser standard than that required of candidates for a judicial office. The kind of statement of support for the BPW agenda required of the judge in this case poses great risks of violating this standard of fairness and impartiality.