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STATE COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT
In July of 2004, a press conference was held by a parents’ rights group to announce the filing of a
complaint against a judge who they accused of violating the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct for his extra-
judicial service on several boards, including Texas CASA (“Court Appointed Special Advocates”).
Based on the notoriety caused by the announcement, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct
determined that the best interests of the judiciary and the public would be served by issuing this Public
Statement addressing the Commission’s position regarding the propriety of judges who serve on the
Texas CASA, Inc. is a statewide, nonprofit organization devoted to the recruitment, training, and
oversight of volunteers who serve as court-appointed special advocates for abused and neglected children
in juvenile dependency proceedings. Volunteers for CASA are specially trained to advocate for the best
interests of a child involved in a court proceeding. Although CASA may differ in some ways from
typical advocacy groups such as MADD (“Mothers Against Drunk Drivers”) or ATLA (“Association of
Trial Lawyers of America”), it is nonetheless a victim advocacy group whose volunteers are partisan, not
neutral, in the judicial process. In many cases a CASA volunteer’s recommendations may conflict with
the position taken by attorneys for the birth parents or even the minors themselves, all of whom are
parties in the proceedings before the judge.
In general, judges are required to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the
judge’s activities. Canon 2. In order to promote public confidence in the judiciary, it is not enough that a
judge be fair and impartial when deciding cases, he must also appear
to be fair and impartial. Canon
4A(1) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct addresses the appearance of impropriety and partiality by
stating that “a judge shall conduct all of the judge’s extra-judicial activities so that they do not cast
reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge.” While judges are encouraged to
engage in civic and charitable activities, their participation is restricted to activities that do not reflect
adversely upon the judge’s impartiality or interfere with the performance of judicial duties. Canon 4C.
Likewise, if the organization will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge
or will be regularly or frequently engaged in adversary proceedings in any court, a judge should not serve
as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of the organization. Canon 4C(1).
In order to avoid the appearance of impropriety and partiality, judges should be cautious about
serving an organization, even one as noble and praiseworthy as CASA, when such an organization
advocates a particular legal philosophy or position. This is especially true when the organization will be
involved in proceedings likely to come before the judge. See Jeffrey Shaman, et al., Judicial Conduct
§9.10 (3d ed. 2000). While it is true that judges who serve any sort of advocacy group run the
risk that the public will perceive that the judge supports the policy positions of that organization, judges
who serve an organization like CASA would likewise endanger the public perception of the judge’s
impartiality for it would not be unreasonable for the public to believe that a judge who is affiliated with
CASA would endorse and be partial to CASA and the CASA volunteer’s recommendations. When asked
to rule in a case involving CASA, a judge’s relationship with the organization may cause a perception that
the CASA volunteer’s opinion will be afforded greater weight because of the judge’s connection with
CASA. This would be true regardless of whether the board on which the judge would serve was local or
The Commission’s position regarding a judge’s service on CASA should be limited to those judges
who hear cases in which CASA volunteers appear as advocates, or who have appellate jurisdiction over
such cases. The Commission would note that the appearance of impropriety in some cases could be cured
with a full disclosure of the judge’s affiliation with CASA, on the record, followed with the informed
consent of the parties and their counsel to allow the judge to continue to hear and decide the case.
Naturally, if a judge were asked to recuse from cases too frequently because of the relationship with
CASA, that judge should step down from his or her membership on the board. Canon 3B(1).
Finally, in concluding that such service by a judge could be improper, the Commission is not
criticizing any judge’s desire to serve CASA, nor is it suggesting that CASA is not a praiseworthy
organization. Further, the Commission’s position is based on the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct as it
currently is written. If future revisions to the Code were to allow for such service by a judge, or if the
Legislature were to provide statutory authority for a judge to serve such an organization, this Public
This Public Statement, issued pursuant to the authority granted by Article 5, §1-a(10) of the Texas
Constitution, is intended to help preserve the integrity of all judges in the State of Texas, to promote
public confidence in the judiciary, and to encourage judges to maintain high standards of professional
conduct. Signed this __18th__ day of _November_, 2005.
ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
1 See also Nebraska Judicial Ethics Opinion 05-1, issued January 20, 2005.
Adam W. Van Wynsberghe1063 Science CenterVisiting Assistant Research Scientist (Sabbatical Leave from Hamilton College)University of California-San DiegoDepartment of Chemistry and BiochemistryAssistant ProfessorHamilton College, Clinton, NYDepartment of ChemistryNIH Post-Doctoral FellowUniversity of California-San DiegoDepartment of Chemistry and BiochemistryAdvisor: Dr. J. Andrew McCammonAss
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