Commonwealth of Virginia Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 01-4
Date Issued: March 28, 2001
Propriety of a Judge Lecturing or Teaching in Police Training Programs
May a judge lecture at a police training academy regarding what is expected from officers in the courtroom? May a judge teach about recent legal developments in a program for police officers?
Answer: Yes, provided that the lecturing or teaching is done under circumstances which are clearly educational and give no appearance of the judge acting as an agent of the police department or the sponsoring agency or which might reasonably cause the judge to appear to be biased in favor of the police in the courtroom.
In one situation, a judge has been asked to lecture at a police training academy to explain what is expected from officers in the courtroom. It is designed to inform police officers on the kinds of topics judges might provide to lawyers or lay people in a different educational setting, namely, the effect of particular demeanor, the need for candor, the value of listening to the question, the importance of providing succinct answers, etc.
In another case, a judge has inquired as to whether it is proper for a judge to teach police officers in an educational forum about recent developments in the law.
The Committee assumes that in both inquiries the program is clearly educational and that the judge's role is so purely educational that there is no likelihood that the judge, as a result of these activities, would appear to a reasonable person to be biased in favor of police officers in the courtroom.
Canon 4(A) requires a judge to conduct extra judicial activities so they neither cast a reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially, demean the judicial office or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties. A judge is specifically authorized by Canon 4(B) to write or teach concerning the law, the legal system and the administration of justice subject to the requirements of the Canons of Judicial Conduct. As noted in the commentary to Canon 4(B): "As a judicial officer and person specially learned in the law, a judge is in a unique position to contribute to the improvement of the law, the legal system and the administration of justice." It is also observed that "judges may participate in efforts to promote the fair administration of justice, the independence of the judiciary and the integrity of the legal profession."
When a judge is asked to provide educational assistance in a forum which is clearly educational, he or she may participate in such a program so long as it is done under circumstances which do not appear to be improper or which threaten the independence or perceived independence of the court or the judge. In the most innocuous circumstances, when a judge on a non-repeating basis presents the kind of information the judge might provide to a general audience, a civic club, or to a group of lawyers about propriety in the courtroom, the value of succinct and articulate answers, the need to pay attention to questions and to answer them properly, and generally to provide information that simply advances the cause of justice and better informs participants in the legal system, there is no reason to believe that there is any appearance of impropriety or lack of independence.
Comments by a judge, even in an education forum, could be interpreted as an advisory opinion of the judge or a court. The judge should make it clear that his or her comments are not intended as advisory opinions or to commit the judge or any other judge to a particular legal position in a court proceeding.
Canon 1 of the Canons of Judicial Conduct provides that a judge shall uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary. Canon 2 requires a judge to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety. In an educational program for police, to the extent the judge presents himself or herself as an advocate for a particular approach to criminal enforcement or appears to be "coaching" police on how best to get convictions or otherwise causes himself or herself to be too closely identified with the police effort, the judge has crossed the line and placed into jeopardy the appearance of independence of the judiciary. Even if a judge participates in an acceptable educational forum but does so on a repeating or regular basis, he or she might also risk the appearance of being too closely associated with the police (or other sponsoring organization) so that independence could be reasonably challenged. For example, if the police academy featured a particular judge every year for several years in succession, while the judge may intend only to provide education as a way of improving the administration of justice, there is a substantial risk that he or she would be perceived as being too closely associated with the police department in the eyes of the observer.
Since Canon 3B(5) requires a judge to perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice, the judge must avoid relationships which give the appearance of bias.
In summary, to the extent that the educational activity of a judge to inform police about legal developments or procedures in the courtroom is not done under circumstances which make the judge appear to be biased or an advocate for particular police philosophies and attitudes or prosecution tactics, and so long as not done on such a frequent or regular basis as to make the judge appear to be too closely associated with the police department, there is no reason why the judge cannot provide such information.
Accordingly, the committee opines that, under the circumstances indicated, the judge may participate in the educational programs as requested.
All opinions shall be advisory only, and no opinion shall be binding on the Judicial Inquiry Review Commission or the Supreme Court in the exercise of its judicial discipline responsibilities. However, the Judicial Inquiry Review Commission and the Supreme Court may in their discretion consider compliance with an advisory opinion by the requesting individual to be evidence of a good faith effort to comply with the Canons of Judicial Conduct provided that compliance with an opinion issued to one judge shall not be considered evidence of good faith of another judge unless the underlying facts are substantially the same. Order of the Supreme Court of Virginia entered January 5, 1999.
This page last modified: March 29, 2001