MSC mulls changes to Code of Judicial Conduct

The Michigan Supreme Court is considering amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct that would clarify judges’ obligations concerning extrajudicial activities, especially where money is involved.

The Court has published two alternative proposals for comment.

Alternative A would impose the same obligations regarding extrajudicial activities for both law-related and other activities. This would be accomplished by combining Canons 4 and 5.

Canon 4 would be amended to clarify what civic and charitable fundraising activities are allowed or prohibited.

Alternative B would accomplish much of the same but would be loosely based on the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct.

According to the staff comment accompanying the proposed amendments:

The most recent iteration of the ABA Model Code splits the existing language of Michigan’s Canon 4 through Canon 6 into 15 separate rules.

For purposes of the proposed language of Alternative B, however, the separate model rules are combined in the proposed revised text of Michigan’s current two Canons, and would retain nearly all the language that currently exists in Canon 4 and Canon 5.

But the proposal is similar to the ABA Model Code in that proposed Canon 4 would begin with a description of the underlying foundational requirements for any extrajudicial activities (i.e., participation in the activity must not undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality) and other general requirements, and then would set out the allowed fundraising and other financial activities in Canon 5.

Both proposals would permit judges to accept testimonials, which Canon 7 currently prohibits with this language:

C. Fundraising Other Than for Campaign Purposes Prohibited.
Except as provided in 7B(2)(b) and (c),
(1) No judge shall accept a testimonial occasion on the judge’s behalf where the tickets are priced to cover more than the reasonable costs thereof, which may include only a nominal gift[.]

The Court wants your comments on the proposal. Send them in writing or by email to: Supreme Court Clerk, P.O. Box 30052, Lansing, MI 48909, or

The comment period closes March 1, 2012. Refer to ADM File No. 2005-11.

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