Opinion 03-20

March 6, 2003


Digest:            The courthouse may be used for a ceremony and reception hosted by local bar associations for the purpose of honoring the new chairperson of a legislative judiciary committee; and the administrative judge may speak at the reception.


Rules:             22 NYCRR Part 100 - Preamble; 100.5(A)(1)(e); 100.5(A)(1)(g); Opinion 98-37 (Vol. XVI).


            An administrative judge inquires whether it would be permissible for the court to allow a joint reception to be held at the courthouse, which is being planned by the local bar association and trial lawyers’ association. The occasion is intended to honor one of the associations’ members, a state legislator recently named to a key post on a legislative judiciary committee. There are no fund-raising activities associated with the reception; and the administrative judge has been ask to make some remarks.

            The judge states the use of the facility would not in any way affect court operations. In fact, the courtroom is often made available to the bar associations for other functions. The judge believes that functions of this nature are important to foster on-going discussions regarding the legal system and the administration of justice among the legislature, members of the legal community, and the judiciary.

            The critical issue, in our view, is whether the fact that the purpose of the event is to honor a legislator renders what is being planned a political gathering. If so, judicial participation or sanctioning of the event is prohibited. 22 NYCRR 100.5(A)(1). However, we do not believe that what is being contemplated can be characterized as a political event. In our opinion, the event is non-political and clearly related to the functioning of the judiciary. The official governmental position of the person being honored is, of course, crucial in this regard; and the prohibition against political endorsements as provided for in section 100.5(A)(1)(e) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (22 NYCRR Part 100) is in no way breached by the fact that the event is taking place in the courthouse and that a judge will be speaking.

            In short, given the fact of the position held by the honoree, and applying the admonition of the Preamble to the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, that the Rules are to be regarded as rules of reason, we conclude that the event is not a political gathering and in no way implies an endorsement of the legislator. See, also Opinion 98-37 (Vol. XVI). Thus, the event as described may be held in the courthouse, and the inquirer may be a speaker at the event.