September 12, 2002
Digest: A judge may serve as a co-chair of a professional ethics committee of a local bar association.
Rule: 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3); Opinions 89-150 (Vol. V); 97-14 (Vol.XV).
A judge has been invited to co-chair a professional ethics committee of a local bar association. The judge states that the committee “advises attorneys with respect to any ethical question that may arise.” The judge asks if it would be ethically permissible to accept the appointment.
The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct allow a judge to serve as an officer, director or trustee of an organization devoted to the law, the legal system or the administration of justice or of an educational, religious, charitable, cultural fraternal or civic organization not conducted for profit, but not as a legal advisor to such an organization. 22NYCRR 100.4 (C)(3).
Although, this judge as a member of the ethics committee of the bar association may utilize his/her legal expertise in the support of an activity of the organization, the judge would not be serving as a legal advisor to the organization. The term “legal advisor,” as utilized in this Rule, contemplates a relationship more akin to that of an individual attorney giving legal counsel to a client and would not encompass a judge’s role as one of a number of members of an advisory committee.
This Committee has, in the past, authorized judges to utilize their legal expertise and experience to advance permissible bar association sponsored initiatives. In Opinion 89-150 (Vol. V), the inquiring judge was allowed to participate in a settlement project sponsored by a local bar association where judges attempted to settle cases referred by the court. Opinion 89-150 (Vol. V). In Opinion 97-14 (Vol. XV), the Committee also concluded that a judge may serve as a member of a county bar association committee which makes recommendations to the bar association related to the granting or denial of grants and the administration of an endowment to enhance the furnishing of a probono legal services in the county. Opinion 97-14 (Vol. XV).
In short, it is the Committee’s opinion that the judge may serve as a member of a professional ethics committee of a local bar association. There is also no reason why the judge, as a member of the committee, may not serve as the committee co-chair.