September 14, 2000
A Friends Committee consisting entirely of non-judges may solicit commercial
sponsorship of programs at a judicial convention, but a convention journal
which detracts from the dignity of judicial office or which lends the prestige
of judicial office to advance the private interests of the contributors
should not be utilized.
22 NYCRR 100.2(C); 100.4(A)(2); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i);
Opinions 94-07 (Vol. XII); 96-106 (Vol. XIV);
97-48 (Vol. XV); 99-09 (Vol. XVII); 99-136.
An officer of a national association of judges informs the Committee that the association is holding its annual meeting in 2001 in New York. Although each attendee will bear his or her individual expenses, e.g. registration fees, lodging, etc., certain programs and activities are underwritten by a variety of law-related commercial entities, such as publishers, legal data providers, and law firms. Such contributions are obtained by a local Friends Committee, none of whose members is a judge. The contributions are made to the Friends Committee, and it is intended that a journal will be put together containing "greetings from law firms and their clients, law schools, public officials and others to welcome the attendees to New York City." The judge asks: "Is there any ethical problem for the host judges with this journal?"
Preliminarily, we note that in Opinion 99-09 (Vol. XVII), the Committee had before it an inquiry from a member of the planning committee for this very convention. The judge in that inquiry asked whether it is ethically permissible to "attend these programs or to solicit the participation of potential sponsors and underwriters." The Committee responded that, "Clearly, there is no ethical objection to a judge attending programs that are part of a judicial convention, regardless of the fact that such programming may be sponsored or underwritten by a commercial entity." Although not cited by the Committee, the views expressed in Opinion 96-106 (Vol. XIV) were clearly in point. There, the Committee advised that it was ethically permissible for judges to participate in a judicial educational program conducted by the National Judicial College even though the funding for the program was from a national home builder association, inasmuch as the intended program was under the direction and control of the National Judicial College, not the entity that was providing the funding. That appears to be the situation in this instance.
The Committee in Opinion 99-09 (Vol. XVII) went on to say that judges are precluded from personally participating in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities (22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][i]), and that such personal solicitation should not be engaged in by judges in connection with this event. In our view, as presented to the Committee, there is no personal judicial participation in fund-raising being contemplated. As stated above, the Friends Committee is composed entirely of non-judges, and it can therefore be concluded that the solicitation is being done entirely by non-judges. That is, the solicitation is carried on neither by the individual judicial members of the association nor by the association itself. See Opinion 94-07 (Vol. XII). Thus, in Opinion 99-136, the Committee approved a letter soliciting contributions in support of a high school essay contest sponsored by a judicial district's Gender Fairness committee, provided the letter was not signed by a judicial member of the committee, and there was no indication of official sponsorship by the court system. Additionally, we note that, here, the convention is not a fund-raising event and the organization could not be perceived as an adjunct to the court system. See e.g. Opinion 94-07 (Vol. XII); 97-48 (Vol. XV). In short, none of the indicia of impermissible judicial participation in fund-raising as previously expressed by this Committee are present.
But this does not mean that the Committee approves of the proposed journal.
It does not. The inquiring judge has provided us with two prior convention
journals. Although it is said that the journal is put together by the Friends
Committee, there are throughout both journals, pages containing "greetings"
or "thanks" of one sort or another from the association itself or one or
more of its committees, directed to the commercial contributors, and similar
"greetings" from the sponsors to the association and its members. Indeed,
in both journals attendees are urged by the association to visit the various
exhibits set up by named contributors. Further, the "greetings" expressed
by sponsors and underwriters are essentially promotional in intent if not
in content. Thus, while it is entirely appropriate to acknowledge and recognize
contributors, it is quite another thing for the organization to affirmatively
publicize commercial entities or to be seen as supporting their endeavors.
In short, acknowledgment and recognition should not be expressed in ways
which create the impression that the judges are lending the prestige of
judicial office to advance the private interests of the various contributors
(22 NYCRR 100.2[C]), or which "detract from the dignity of judicial office."
22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(2). In our opinion, the journal material submitted to
us creates such dangers, and should be avoided.1
1. As indicated, the association is a national organization of judges. Accordingly, the views expressed herein are intended as guides to the conduct of New York State judges only.