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November 2010

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Season of Giving Has Its Rules

'Tis the season of gifting and gift getting. Not to dampen the holiday spirit, but the Judiciary’s gift regulations should be kept in mind during this season of giving.

Gift boxes

On the receiving end of a plate of holiday cookies, some candy canes, a pumpkin pie, or a Bûche de Noël? Enjoy! Most court employees are not prevented by gift regulations from receiving such gifts or gratuities. Baked goods and candies have a de minimis pecuniary value to any member of the office, and therefore may be acceptable under Gift Regulation § 5(b)(8), which permits nonchambers employees to accept noncash gifts with a value of less than $50. Alternatively, those cookies might fall within the “ordinary social hospitality” exception to the rule against acceptance of gifts by federal employees.

Some gifts from people outside the court (except for the aforementioned baked goods) clearly cannot be accepted. This applies particularly to chambers staff, who are not permitted to accept gifts. Period. Some courts may allow other court employees to accept small gifts, some do not. Individual court policy should be the guide.

For gift giving within the courts, Judiciary regulations permit voluntary contributions to group gifts on “special occasions.” However, under Title 5 U.S.C. § 7351, a government employee may not “solicit a contribution from another employee for a gift to an official superior; make a donation as a gift or give a gift to an official superior, or accept a gift from an employee receiving less pay than himself.” Does that put an end to the scarves lovingly knitted for close friends in the court? Don’t roll up the yarn yet. The gift regulations permit employees to collect voluntary contributions for a group gift, or make a voluntary gift, in “circumstances in which gifts are traditionally given or exchanged.”

Canon 4 C of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees states that “A judicial employee should not solicit or accept a gift from anyone seeking official action from or doing business with the court or other entity served by the judicial employee, or from anyone whose interests may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of official duties; except that a judicial employee may accept a gift as permitted by the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 and the Judicial Conference regulations.” The prohibition extends to members of a judicial employee’s family who live at home. Title 5 U.S.C. § 7353 echoes Canon 4’s restrictions.

So before making those holiday lists, check with the court and consult the Code of Conduct for the policy on what’s appropriate for gifting and getting this holiday.