September 12, 2002
Digest: Under the particular circumstances presented, the inquiring judge may attend the fund-raising event in question; purchase an ad in the journal; and acknowledge his/her status as a member of the group of past presidents of the organization who are being honored.
Rule: 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i); (ii) Opinions 98-16 (Vol. XVI); 94-25 (Vol. XII); 92-70 (Vol. X).
The inquiring judge is a past president of a not-for-profit community organization that operates a community center. The organization runs an annual fund-raising journal and dinner. This year the Board of Directors has decided to honor the organization’s past presidents. The judge has objected to the president, orally and in writing, to his/her inclusion, in the list of honorees, citing section 100.4(C)(3)(b)(ii) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct which prohibits a judge from being a speaker or guest of honor at an organization’s fund-raising events. 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(ii).
Although the organization has agreed not to use the judge’s name in any fund-raising, it still intends to honor at the dinner all past presidents, including the inquirer. Further, the solicitation letters from ads in the journal are written on the regular stationery of the organization which includes, in addition to the names of the Board members, the past presidents who are designated collectively as Honorary Presidents.
Based on the foregoing, the judge seeks the Committee’s advice concerning different aspects of his/her relation to the event. First, in our opinion, the judge may purchase a gold page ad in the journal. Such purchase does not imply that the judge is “acquiescing” in his/her choice as honoree, as the judge fears. Nor does it constitute a solicitation of contributions under section 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i ) of the Rules. See, Opinions 94-25 (Vol. XII); 92-
70 (Vol. X).
Second, the judge may attend the dinner (Opinion 98-16 [Vol. XVI]), notwithstanding that the judge believes that his/her name may be listed on the program as an honoree. Third, should the judge’s name be called as an honoree, the judge should merely say “Thank You.” An acknowledgment of this nature, under the
circumstances, would merely constitute a recognition that the judge is a member of a collective body (i.e. past presidents) and is being honored solely in that capacity. It would not, in our view, contravene the prohibition against being a speaker at a fund-raiser. Nor, for that matter, is the prestige of judicial office being used by the organization or the judge in any way to advance the fund-raising effort of the organization.
Finally, the Committee is not in a position to recommend any further action to be taken by the judge beyond what has already been done, nor can we reliably predict what other ethical questions might arise in connection with this event. Should further facts give rise to further questions, the Committee remains available to provide additional advice.
We stress that this opinion is strictly limited to the particular facts presented.