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June 5, 2000

Hamilton H. Singleton
Chancery/Probate Judge, First Division
Thirteenth Judicial Circuit
P.O. Box 763
Camden, Arkansas 71711-0763

RE: Advisory Opinion 2000-04

Dear Judge Singleton:

You have asked this Committee whether you may serve on the board of directors of the Country Club of Camden, Arkansas. The board has oversight of membership, facilities, and general operations of a golf course and club house.

You cite Canon 2C of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which provides that a judge shall not hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, or nation origin. You state that the Camden Country Club does not violate Canon 2C in any respect, inasmuch as it does not exclude any person as a member based on race, sex, religion, or national origin.

We are aware of nothing in the canons that would preclude your serving on the board of directors of this organization, assuming there is no invidious discrimination involved. While we have no basis for taking issue with your assertion in this regard, experience has taught us that discrimination takes subtle forms and caution is advisable. The commentary to Canon 2C is too lengthy to quote in its entirety, but the following excerpt illustrates the point:

Whether an organization practices invidious discrimination is often a complex
question to which judges should be sensitive. The answer cannot be determined
from a mere examination of an organization's current membership rolls, but
rather depends on how the organization selects members and other relevant
factors. An organization is generally said to discriminate invidiously if it arbitrarily excludes from membership on the basis of race, religion, sex, or
national origin persons who would otherwise be admitted to membership.

According to the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications, Canon 2C "[i]s aimed directly at country clubs and dining clubs because they offer obvious benefits to their members from which members of protected groups are excluded." "[D]enial of access to club facilities constitutes a significant barrier to the professional advancement of women and minorities since business transactions are often conducted in such clubs, and personal contacts valuable for business purposes, employment, and professional advancement are formed." Indiana Advisory
Opinion 1-94.

We concur with the Arizona Advisory Committee that "[t]he individual judge is in the best position to gather the information about the organization in which he or she is a member or a prospective member and the judge must then assess whether his or her membership complies with Canon 2C." Arizona Advisory Opinion 94-13. Our own commentary reflects that view in the final sentence of the third paragraph: "Ultimately, each judge must determine the judge's own conscience whether participation in such an organization violates Canon 2 and Section 2A."


Judge Steele Hays
For the Committee

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