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I recently filed a petition in my county court. While I'm aware it's a routine proceeding for county judges, the judge's grant of my petition means a lot to me personally, and I would like to send a gift of flowers and a card as a token of my gratitude. Of course, I know there are restrictions regarding gifts to judges, designed to address impropriety and influence (or appearance thereof).

I came across the ABA's Model Code of Judicial Conduct: Canon 3 and the Guide to Jucidiary Policy; both seem to have exclusions, notably

“Gift” means any gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other similar item having monetary value but does not include:

[...]

  • greeting cards and items with little intrinsic value, such as plaques, certificates, and trophies, which are intended solely for presentation

Furthermore, the Guide to Judiciary Policy also outlines (emphasis mine) that

A judicial officer or employee who has received a gift that cannot be accepted under these regulations should return any tangible item to the donor, except that a perishable item may be given to an appropriate charity, shared within the recipient's office, or destroyed.

My questions are thus:

  1. Would a bouquet of flowers constitute an item with "little intrinsic value" and or that is "intended solely for presentation"?

  2. If the answer to 1 is not a clear-cut and unconditional "yes", could I instead address the gift to the judge's office?

Such a bouquet would likely cost around $100, but mitigating factors (as I see them) include the facts that:

  1. Flowers are pretty much intended for presentation; according to two examples from the Cornell Legal Information Institute, even though some items might have a "market value" that could trigger restrictions, since they are primarily intended for presentation, they are acceptable, and

  2. The gift is being given after the judge's grant, rather than prior to it; I don't expect to be conducting any further business with my county court in the foreseeable future, and these restrictions are specifically applied to gifts from

[...] anyone who is seeking official action from or doing business with the court or other entity served by the judicial officer or employee, or from any other person whose interests may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the judicial officer’s or employee’s official duties.

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This is a somewhat tricky one. judges tend to be particularly sensitive to possibly improper gifts, so it is best to err on the side of caution—the low-value side. I would think a very pleasant floral gift could be obtained and delivered for much less than $100.

It may well be that a simple card or letter, in which you write a note explaining how much the judges action meant to you, would actually mean more to the judge than any amount of flowers. Since you don't know the judge personally, after all, you have no idea of his or her taste in flowers. Some people even have allergies. Or you might ask one of the clerks at the court what would be appropriate.

If your case or issue was still pending before the court, or you expected to appear again soon, such a gift would be a bad idea, in my view, although probably not actually illegal.

  • "although probably not actually illegal" - I'd not be too sure of that. Rules for accepting gifts are very strict in some jurisdictions. A gift with a value of $100 could well qualify as an attempted bribe, with serious criminal implications (depending on how zealous the district attorney is). I personally would not risk it. – sleske Jan 7 at 8:41
  • A card with a personal thank you, on the other hand, seems like a good solution. – sleske Jan 7 at 8:42
  • I was kinda hoping to do flowers and a card (and I'm done with the court with no further need/desire/expectation to go back any time soon). Maybe I can check with the judge's office about allergies and the like, and address the flowers to their office, with a personal card for the judge themselves? – Doktor J Jan 8 at 20:38

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