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Dec. 17, 2009
Grievances & Discipline Board Releases Advisory Opinions

The Supreme Court of Ohio’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline recently issued three advisory opinions concerning charitable contributions, thanking jurors for their service and charging for outsourced legal services.

Opinion 2009-11 addresses the following question: “Is it proper for a judge to make a charitable contribution from personal or campaign funds to an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization not conducted for profit in an election or a non-election year even though the contribution might result in some name recognition for the judge?”

The opinion finds that there are no ethical restrictions with charitable contributions from judicial campaign funds or from personal funds in an election or non-election year under the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct. “But, a judge’s charitable contribution from judicial campaign funds must be in compliance with R.C. 3517.08(G) and reported as an expenditure as required by R.C. 3517.10.”

The opinion also offered a caveat for a charitable contribution from personal funds: “… although a charitable contribution from personal funds is presumed to be made for charitable purposes, the Ohio Elections Commission has advised in Op. 90-1 that the presumption may be rebutted and the reporting requirements of state campaign finance law may be implicated if the charitable contribution from personal funds is made for the purpose of promoting a present or possible future election.”

Opinion 2009-10 addressed the following question: “Is it proper for a judge, at personal expense, to distribute bookmarks, imprinted with the judge’s name, picture, and a historic quote regarding jury service, to jurors who serve in the judge’s courtroom?”

The opinion finds that the practice is permissible under the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct, but cautions judges to thank jurors soon after their service ends and to “use a uniform method of thanking the jury that is in keeping with the dignity of jury service and the furtherance of the administration of justice.” Further, a judge should consider whether it is prudent to do so at personal expense rather than at court expense in the Ohio Elections Commission’s advice in Op. 89-4 that a public officeholder’s purchase with personal funds of items distributed to promote a possible future candidacy is a reportable expenditure pursuant to R.C. 3517.10.

Opinion 2009-9 addresses the following question: “If a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer retains an outside law firm to provide health care lien resolution services in a settled matter, is it proper for the plaintiff’s lawyer to charge the client for the outsourced services as an expense of litigation?”

The opinion finds that the plaintiff’s lawyer may use his or her professional judgment in making the decision, but either way the fees must be reasonable and not excessive.

Advisory Opinions of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline are informal, nonbinding opinions in response to prospective or hypothetical questions regarding the application of the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Bar of Ohio, the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Judiciary, the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct, and the Attorney’s Oath of Office.

Contact: Jon Marshall at 614.387.9370 or Chris Davey at 614.387.9250.