JQC issues advisory opinion to judges with family members running for office

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Judges who have a family member running for elected office may appear in campaign materials as long as the judge’s title or position isn’t mentioned, the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications decided in an advisory opinion released Friday.

In its opinion, the judicial qualifications commission took a “middle ground approach” to this issue, writing that in addition to leaving off a judge’s title, the judge should not be pictured in his or her robe and should appear simply as a family member of the candidate in these campaign materials.

Some states bar any use of a judge’s name, title or picture in campaign materials. A few allow a judge to be identified as a judge as long as the campaign materials also identify the occupations of all other family members featured.

The opinion also tackles the issue of campaign events held at a jointly owned home of a judge and candidate, a question that has divided states. Michigan believes that no campaign events may be held at a home or property jointly owned with the judge. Ethical bodies in Washington and Florida believe these campaign events can be held at a judge’s home as long as the judge does not participate, assist in preparations, is not present for fundraisers held in the home, and is not identified on invitations.

“Judges who face these issues should ask themselves whether the use of jointly-owned property would appear, to the average bystander, to be an impermissible abuse of the judge’s prestige. While the Commission believes that a blanket prohibition on use of any jointly-owned property is not necessary, the Commission thinks it imprudent for a judge to publicly assist the candidate-spouse in preparations for an event hosted in their home, as such conduct may give members of the public the perception that the judge is using the prestige of judicial office to promote his/her spouse’s campaign,” the JQC opinion states.

“Further, if the jointly-owned property is heavily decorated with vestiges of the judge’s career, it may be wise to move campaign events elsewhere.”

The commission also recommends against placing yard signs or other public indications of support toward a candidate in front of property jointly owned by the candidate and judge.

Indiana Supreme Court public information officer Kathryn Dolan said Friday’s opinion wasn’t issued in response to any specific inquiry.

“The Commission decided that issuing an advisory opinion on this topic would give judges an immediately accessible resource,” Dolan said. “It also alerts judges to what conduct is and is not permitted by the Code of Conduct.”

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