September 14, 2000
Under the circumstances presented, judges may serve on a committee that
is organizing a dinner to honor a retiring judge, and their names may appear
on the committee's letterhead soliciting attendance at the event.
22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(C);
Two judges have been asked to serve on the committee that is organizing a dinner to honor a retiring judge. Their names would appear on the letterhead of the committee and presumably letters would be sent to other judges, members of the bar and other notables, inviting their attendance. The price charged would include the cost of the dinner and an appropriate gift. The Committee is asked its opinion as to whether service on such a committee is permissible.
Section 100.2 of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct requires a judge to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge's activities. 22 NYCRR 100.2. Further, a judge's extra-judicial activities are to be conducted in such a manner so that they do not "(1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge; (2) detract from the dignity of judicial office; or (3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties and are not incompatible with judicial office." 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(1),(2),(3).
In Opinion 99-152, in response to a similar inquiry, the Committee stated that there was no ethical prohibition against a "judge's attendance at this event [i.e. a retirement dinner] or against the use of the judge's name on the invitation to it." The proceeds raised by the sale of the tickets to the dinner were to be used to cover the cost of the dinner. Here, the proceeds will include the additional cost of a gift and the judges will presumably be identified as part of a committee that is organizing and sponsoring the dinner.
The Committee does not regard these additional facts as in any way warranting a different result. In the opinion of the Committee, service on such a committee would not contravene any of the above-cited Rules. The judge being honored has had a long and distinguished career as a judge, and the event is likely to attract substantial attendance of members of the bar and bench. In our view, letters soliciting attendance at such an event could not remotely be regarded as somehow coercive or as creating opportunities for future displays of judicial favoritism. 22 NYCRR 100.2(C). The event is not a fund-raiser. It is simply a retirement dinner. It seeks only to honor a retiring justice who is leaving the bench after years of devoted service. Serving on a committee to honor the retiring judge and appearing on the letterhead inviting attendance of lawyers, judges and others, under the circumstances described, is, in our opinion, permitted under the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct.