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April 5, 2001

Honorable Rice Vanausdall
Circuit/Chancery Judge
P. O. Box 500
Harrisburg, AR 72432

Honorable Howard Templeton
Chancellor, 1st Division
P. O. Box 1404
Jonesboro, AR 72403

Honorable Vic Fleming
L R Municipal Court, 2nd Division
600 W. Markham Street
Little Rock, AR 72201

RE: Advisory Opinion # 2001-02

Dear Judges Vanausdall, Templeton and Fleming:

You have asked about the propriety of being a "Judicial Fellow" of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. ATLA's letter to you, which you provided us, asks you to "accept recognition by ATLA as a Judicial Fellow." ATLA offers you a complimentary subscription to Trial magazine and complimentary registration for ATLA conventions.

This Committee has previously dealt with this issue in Advisory Opinions 99-04 and 99-07. We conclude that a full-time judge could not be a member of ATLA or any other organization that outwardly favors one side or consistently takes one side in legal issues. To do so would violate the prohibition against the "appearance of impropriety" contained in Canon 2 and might raise doubt on the judge's ability to decide impartiality as required by Canon 4. The prohibition applies regardless of whether membership dues are required.

ATLA's letter recognizes our concerns. Its closing paragraph states that "several supreme courts have ruled it unethical for judges to join organizations that represent a single side in legal disputes." However, we see no difference in being a member of ATLA, a "Judicial Fellow of ATLA", or any other appellation that ATLA may conceive. Such an outward association does not encourage the integrity and independence of the judiciary.

We emphasize again that any judge may receive free publications from ATLA, may accept complimentary registration at ATLA conventions, and may speak at ATLA programs. But public and ongoing identification as a member, fellow, or supporter, no matter what phrase is used, is inappropriate.

Sincerely,

Howard W. Brill
for the Committee


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