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July 16, 2001


Dennis L. James, President
Arkansas Municipal Judges Council, Inc.
519 East Capitol, Suite 2-West
Little Rock, AR 72202

Re: Advisory Opinion Number 2001-03

Dear Judge James:

As president of the Arkansas Municipal Judges Council, you have asked this committee whether representatives of the council may contact committees of the Arkansas Supreme Court and of the Arkansas Bar Association, as well as members of the Arkansas General Assembly, concerning the proposed plan of implementation of Amendment 80. The plan is presently being prepared by the Municipal Judges Council to restructure limited jurisdiction courts, renamed "District Courts" as of July 1, 2001. You anticipate that committees of the Supreme Court and Bar Association will review, analyze, and possibly amend parts of the plan for submission to the General Assembly of 2002.

You tell us that municipal judges have, at the request of each committee, taken an active role in drafting this plan; that municipal judges deal daily with the system being redefined and will be significantly engaged in the debate, work and research on the plan. You contemplate that judges will speak with and write to legislators and members of the committees regarding the merits and efficacy of the proposed plan.

Specifically, you ask whether written or oral contacts by municipal judges in this undertaking is permissible and whether it is proper for judges to use the letterhead of their office in written communication.

Assuming that your contacts and discourse with the committees and legislators relate to the implementation of Amendment 80 as it pertains to municipal courts and judges, in the opinion of this committee, such contacts, direct or in writing would come within the purview of Canon 4 of the Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct. Canon 4 (B) provides:

B. Avocational Activities. A judge may speak, write, lecture, teach on and participate in other extra-judicial activities concerning the law,* the legal system, the administration of justice and non-legal subjects, subject to the requirement of this Code.


Commentary:

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, including revision of substantive and procedural law and improvement of criminal and juvenile justice. To the extent that time permits, a judge is encouraged to do so, either independently or through a bar association, judicial conference or other organization dedicated to the improvement of the law. Judges may participate in efforts to promote the fair administration of justice, the independence of the judiciary and the integrity of the legal profession and may express opposition to the persecution of lawyers and judges in other countries because of their professional activities.

As to the use of your official letterhead, we can conceive of no reason why such method would be inappropriate.

Yours very truly,


Steele Hays
For the Committee



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