ON STANDARDS OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT
Opinion No. 11 - 2011
Re: Propriety of a family court judge sending emails or post cards announcing the publication of a novel.
A family court judge has written a novel that will be released by an out-of-state publishing company. The judge would like to send out an announcement, which will be made by the publishing company, by email or postcard to members of the South Carolina Bar with whom the judge is acquainted. The announcement would not contain any reference to the judge’s position. The judge inquires into the propriety of the announcements.
The judge may send emails or post cards announcing the publication of the judge’s novel as long as the email does not reference the judge’s position and the email is not sent from the judge’s judicial email address or the postcards do not show a return address for the judge’s chambers.
"Complete separation of a judge from extra-judicial activities is neither possible nor wise." Commentary, Canon 4A of Rule 501 of the SCACR. In Opinion 30-1995, the Advisory Committee stated:
the Code requires a judge to conduct himself in a manner that commands respect for himself and his office during any activity in which the judge participates. Therefore a judge may use his full name as the stated author [of a publication] as long as the subject matter of the [publication] does not detract from the dignity of his office or interfere with the performance of his judicial duties.
Moreover, Canon 2B states that "[a] judge should not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others. . ." The Commentary for Canon 2B, Rule 501, SCACR states "[i]n contracts for publication of a judge's writings, a judge should retain control over the advertising to avoid exploitation of the judge's office." In Opinion 12-2003, we addressed a similar situation and concluded that a judge may state in a biographical section of a publication that he or she is a judge if the statement conveys only fact, enabling the reader to be more informed about the author's background, but he or she may not state his or her official capacity in efforts to promote or advertise the novel’s sale.
The same rationale applies to the announcement here. While the judge may send announcements of the publication to members of the Bar, the announcements should not reference the judge’s position. Furthermore, the judge should not send any email announcements from the judge’s judicial email, but instead send them from a personal email account. Likewise, any return address on mailed postcards should not reflect the judge’s chambers or official address.
September 8, 2011