The Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions (CJEO) this month posted a summary of oral advice given to a judge about serving on the advisory board of a nonprofit organization involved in criminal justice issues.

In its summary of the advice, the committee concluded a judicial officer may serve on the advisory board of a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving criminal justice. Such service may include:

  • Drafting legislation to benefit the law or judicial system directly, including providing testimony before the Legislature or meeting with Legislative sponsors to provide a judicial perspective;
  • Serving the general interests of those using the legal system; or
  • Enhancing the prestige, efficiency, or function of the legal system.

However, the committee cautioned that these activities are permissible only so long as the judicial officer determines on a continuing basis that they are otherwise consistent with the obligations of judicial office required under the code.  

The committee came to its conclusions by examining rules permitting and encouraging extrajudicial activities involving the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, including service as a nonlegal advisor to a nonprofit civic organization. (Cal. Code Jud. Ethics, canons 4B, 4C(1), 4C(3)(a) & (b).) 

The committee recognized that judges are in a position to contribute because of their legal knowledge and noted judges are specifically permitted to participate in revising substantive and procedural law because they are uniquely qualified to address matters falling within their judicial experience. (Canons 4B & 4C(3).) The committee distinguished permitted nonlegal advice, which is provided from the judicial perspective, from the impermissible practice of law. Canon 4C(3).)

CJEO summarizes its oral advice and posts the summaries on the CJEO website for the benefit of the bench and the public.