Ask the Model Code: Can I accept gifts?

Dear Model Code:

When someone gives me a gift I often wonder whether I can accept it, and if I do, whether I have to disclose the fact. What are the rules?

Sincerely,

Judge Gifted & Tormented

Dear Judge Tormented:

Rule 3.13 begins: “A judge shall not accept any gifts, loans, bequests, benefits, or other things of value if acceptance is prohibited by law or would appear to a reasonable person to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality.”

The text goes on to list a number of situations when gifts to judges need not be reported.These include: items with little intrinsic value; gifts from friends and relatives; and gifts resulting from ordinary social hospitality. You also don’t have to report gifts that are so obviously prejudicial that they disqualify you and you never actually hear the case.

Depending on the circumstances, judges might be able to accept items of value that come from people (or people’s interests) that have come or are likely to come before the judge. But these items must be reported. For obvious reasons, be very careful, and when in doubt don’t accept them.

As mentioned, gifts from family and friends are generally OK, but how close does the person have to be to qualify as a “friend”? And what exactly is meant by “ordinary social hospitality” or “little intrinsic value”?  Bottom line: Always be sensitive to appearances.

Suspectingly,

The Model Code of Judicial Conduct

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