Opinion 02-21

April 18, 2002


Digest:         A judge may allow his or her name, photograph and biography to be used by the university of which he or she is a graduate, in an advertising campaign to encourage the recruitment of students, subject to the judge’s oversight as to the content and presentation of such material.


Rule:            22 NYCRR 100.2(C); Opinions 88-79 (Vol. II); 91-19 (Vol. VIII); 96-75 (Vol. XIV); 97-11 (Vol. XV).


         The inquiring Housing Court judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York has been invited by the university of which he/she is an alumna/us to participate in an advertising campaign by the university, the purpose of which is primarily to “encourage and recruit students to [its] colleges and law school.” The advertisement includes the judge’s picture in judicial robes and outlines his/her “colleges and law school pathways . . . degrees and . . . position as a judge.” The advertisements are appearing in the subway, newspaper educational sections, the university’s television channel, “and its website, in college newspapers and in high schools.” The judge is one of six alumnae/i being highlighted and seeks the Committee’s guidance as to the inclusion of his/her name, position and biography in connection with the campaign to promote the university.

         On a number of occasions, the Advisory Committee has considered similar questions. In Opinion 88-79 (Vol. II), the Committee stated that the inclusion of a judge’s resume and photograph in a brochure prepared by the university which the judge had attended, for the purpose of advertising “to the public and prospective employers of the university’s students and graduates the high caliber and high career achievements of the university’s alumni.” was not improper. Opinion 88-79 (Vol. II). Nor, in Opinion 91-19 (Vol. VIII), was there any impropriety seen in a judge writing to prospective college students a letter which outlines the judge’s feelings about the school and details personal information about the judge’s legal career. Opinion 91-19 (Vol. VIII). See, also Opinions 97-11 (Vol. XV); 96-75 (Vol. XIV).

         It follows, in our view, that the inquiring judge’s participation in such recruitment in the manner described is not an improper extra-judicial activity, nor does it violate the prohibition on the use of the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others. 22 NYCRR 100.2(C). Indeed, to require a judge to seek to bar his or her college or law school from pointing to the achievements of particular alumni/ae as reasons for considering enrollment would, we believe, contravene the mandate that the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct are to be regarded as rules of reason. 22 NYCRR Part 100-Preamble.

         This does not mean, however, that caution need not be exercised by the judge in this instance. Here, the use of the judge’s name, photograph, status and biography are being presented in a variety of different outlets and formats, and it is not entirely certain that all are being used for the same purposes. Fund-raising, for example, would not be a permissible purpose for allowing the publicizing of details of the judge’s accomplishments. Accordingly, the judge should seek to insure that his/her participation in the advertising program meets such concerns, and thus should exercise oversight as to use and presentation of the materials.