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Possible Ethics Violation Remedied By Law Students

A case of potential judicial misconduct in the Sixth Circuit has been remedied by law students from the University of Michigan.

Three judges auctioned personal meetings for a Student Funded Fellowships (SFF) fundraiser. SFF is a student-run program providing grants to first year Michigan law students pursuing public interest summer jobs.

Fix the Court reached out to both the students and the supervising Sixth Circuit, pointing out that the Judicial Code of Conduct (p. 14) prohibits judges fundraising, but it was the students who responded – both returning the money to the bidders, and promising the judges would have no further involvement.

Sixth Circuit Judge Ray Kethledge auctioned a chambers tour and lunch, Magistrate Judge David Grand of the Eastern District of Michigan auctioned a roller coaster ride along with UM Law Professor Jessica Lefort, and District Judge Judy Levy of the Eastern District of Michigan auctioned a hike. The amount of money each auction originally raised was not released.

The judicial Code of Conduct has a clear prohibition on judges engaging in fundraisers. Judges may help plan fundraisers, or raise funds from other judges over whom they exercise no authority, but judges may not “personally participate in fund-raising activities.” The text appears on page 14 of the Code, and below.

Judge Kethledge’s auction of a tour of his chambers also appears to violate the Code’s provision against the use of “the prestige of judicial office” for fundraising purposes.

“Ultimately, a fundraiser for Michigan Law Students is an admirable enterprise, but the activity clearly violates the judges Code of Conduct,” said Fix the Court executive director¬†Gabe Roth. “I applaud the students for acting to preserve the integrity of the Code of Conduct; I only wish the judges had acted more carefully in the first place.”

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