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February 14, 1995


After publication of this opinion, the Arkansas Supreme Court amended the Commentary to Canon 2 (B) 
of the Code of Judicial Conduct. That amendment 
in effect overturned this opinion.


Judge John N. Fogleman
Circuit Judge
Second Judicial District
116 Military Rd.
Marion, AR 72364

RE: JEAC Opinion 95-01 

Dear Judge Fogleman:

You have asked whether you may write a letter of recommendation for a friend, and whether the letter may be written on judicial letterhead.

The governing rule is Canon 2(B), which states, in part: "A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others. . . ." Likewise, in the Comment: "A judge must avoid lending the prestige of judicial office for the advancement of the private interests of others."

It is perhaps significant that the Comment to the Arkansas Canon is different than the Comment to the Model Canon, which reads "Similarly, judicial letterhead must not be used for conducting a judge's personal business." The Arkansas Supreme Court rejected that language and substituted "Similarly, judicial letterhead must not be used to gain a personal advantage or to effect an economic advantage." See Per Curiam, February 1, 1993, 311 Ark. 669. Apparently the Court is permitting judicial letterhead for the personal business of a judge, as long as personal or economic advantage is not involved. However, this modification does not address the use of judicial letterhead for the benefit of others.

A survey of advisory opinions from other jurisdictions reveals the lack of a consensus: Judges may allow their names to be listed as references (Louisiana 87-72). Letters may be written based on personal knowledge, but not merely to lend the prestige of the judicial office to the applicant or candidate. (New York 88-10). Some states require personal stationery (Louisiana 86-71), while others permit judicial stationery provided the words "personal and unofficial" are clearly noted. (New York 88-10). Some states permit judicial stationery for letters of recommendation for law clerks and court personnel, but not for personal friends. (Washington 86-12). Some states distinguish between letters of recommendation for employment and letters of support for application to an educational institution (Maryland 77-56).

In our opinion the policy of the Canon is best served by a clear line: judges may write letters of recommendation, but must do so on personal stationery. Judges may permit their names to be used as references and may respond to an inquiry on judicial letterhead.

 

Sincerely,

Howard W. Brill

For the Committee

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