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Judges can attend inauguration gala for Md. governor, ethics panel rules

Judges can attend the swearing-in and inaugural festivities for Maryland’s governor-elect as long as they follow certain guidelines, the Maryland Judicial Ethics Committee said in a new published opinion.

The opinion came at the request of a judge whose spouse bought two tickets to “The People’s Ball,” a celebration of the inauguration of Democrat Wes Moore as governor and Aruna Miller as lieutenant governor. The gala will take place on Jan. 18 at the Baltimore Convention Center a few hours after the pair are sworn in.

The ethics committee also analyzed whether it would be appropriate for a judge to attend Moore’s swearing-in ceremony “due to anticipated inquiries,” according to the opinion.

Both are acceptable, the committee found, as long as judges follow four conditions. Judges must remember their obligation to “act in a manner that promotes public confidence” in the judiciary and should not be identified by their judicial title if possible.

Judges also cannot use the event as an “opportunity to seek elevation by the governor to a higher bench,” the committee wrote, and cannot be seated on the dais with the governor or positioned in a way that suggests an allegiance to the governor.

The exception to that rule is the chief justice of Maryland’s Supreme Court, who is officiating, or any other judge playing a role in the ceremony.

Tickets to the gala can cost between $125 and $1,000, according to the event’s website. The Moore Miller Inaugural Committee has said that all funds raised by the committee will go toward paying for the celebration and will not be spent on campaign or electoral activities, according to the opinion.

The ethics panel concluded that it was permissible for judges to attend the event because tickets were available to all members of the public.

The opinion contrasts this request from a 2017 decision in which the panel found that judges could not accept free tickets to Baltimore Orioles baseball games to sit in the Governor’s Box. Taking those tickets could have created an appearance that judges were “too closely associated with the executive branch, which could undermine the confidence of litigants that judges could handle their cases fairly.”

Other judicial ethics committees have allowed judges to attend events similar to the inaugural gala, according to the opinion.

The Maryland ethics panel agreed with South Carolina’s Advisory Committee on Standards of Judicial Conduct, which decided in 1995 that inaugurations and the celebrations that follow are not “political activities, but rather governmental activities in which every citizen regardless of their official position should be allowed to participate.”

Judges can show respect for other branches of government and for the orderly transition of power by attending these events, the advisory committee concluded.

Maryland’s Judicial Ethics Committee agreed, finding there is no rule that prohibits judges from attending inaugural activities as long as they follow the rules laid out in the opinion.

Maryland Appellate Court Judge Kathryn Grill Graeff chairs the 15-member ethics committee, which consists of seven sitting judges, four former judges, a circuit court clerk, a judicial appointee and two people who are neither lawyers nor employed by the Maryland Judiciary.