Louisiana Code of Judicial Conduct Permits Questionable Solicitation by Judges

The Louisiana Code of Judicial Conduct generally prohibits a judge from soliciting funds on behalf of an educational, religious, charitable, or civic organization. See Louisiana Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 5(B)(2). The logic underlying this rule is obvious–a judge could easily pressure a lawyer or litigant who might appear before the judge to give money to a school, church or other organization favored by the judge.1

A Februay 27, 2019, amendment to Canon 5(B)(2), however, revised a provision of the canon2 permitting a Louisiana judge “to privately solicit funds for a judge’s local religious organization from a local religious organization member.” See id. On the one hand, this provision arguably furthers a judge’s interest in religious liberty by permitting a judge to actively participate in fund raising activities for a church. On the other hand, however, it raises problematic issues both for the judiciary and for the public.

As to the judiciary, this provision permits priests, pastors, and ministers to press judges in their congregations into fund raising. Many judges are uncomfortable with playing this role given the appearance of impropriety involved with asking for donations from potential litigants and lawyers who may or will appear before them. Thus, this provision permits clergy to “exploit the judge’s judicial position”–something that Canon 5 otherwise would prohibit. See, e.g., La. Code Judicial Conduct Canon 5(C)(1).

As to the public, this provision permits in the religious context extrajudicial conduct that otherwise is impermissible in all other contexts. Thus, it gives undue preference to religious activity. Worst of all, this provision permits extrajudicial conduct that undermines many of the principles underlying Canon 5, including preserving “the dignity of judicial office,” preventing interference with “the performance of judicial duties,” and preserving the “impartiality” of judges.

  1. For this reason, the canon further prohibits a judge from using or permitting “the use of the prestige of judicial office” for such a purpose. However, it permits a judge to “participate in activities sponsored by organizations or governmental entities concerned with the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice, and those sponsored by or on behalf of educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organizations not conducted for profit, including but not limited to the following activities: appearing or speaking at, receiving an award or other recognition at, being featured on the program of, and permitting his or her title to be used in connection with an event of such an organization or entity, even if the event serves a fundraising purpose for the organization, provided the participation does not reflect adversely on the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality.” La. Code Jud. Conduct Canon 5(B)(2) (as revised on February 27, 21019).
  2. A version of this provision has been in the code since at least 2003. HT to Steve Scheckman.
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