April 15, 2003
NOTE: This Opinion is overruled by Joint Opinion 09-59/09-86.
Digest: A part-time judge who practices law, should not allow his/her law firm to indicate the judge’s judicial status on its Internet website.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(C); Opinions 92-125 (Vol. X); 99-105.
A part-time judge who is permitted to practice law asks if it is ethically permissible for the judge’s law firm to indicate his/her judicial status on its Internet website.
Section 100.2(C) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct prohibits a judge from lending the prestige of judicial office to further the private interests of the judge or others, and from conveying or permitting others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence him or her. In Opinion 92-125 (Vol. X), the Committee concluded that a part-time judge cannot use his or her judicial title in an advertisement for the judge’s law practice without violating that provision of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. We are of the opinion that it is also impermissible for a judge’s judicial title to be included on a law firm’s Internet website as it similarly is a form of advertisement which rests upon publicizing the fact that one of its partners is a judge.
The facts in this inquiry are to be distinguished from those in Opinion 99-105. In that opinion, this Committee concluded that it is permissible to include the fact that a lawyer in the firm holds a judicial position in the biographical section of the judge’s law firm’s listing in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory. We noted in that opinion that the Martindale-Hubbell publication long antedated lawyer advertising. We concluded that that publication was and is intended primarily to provide information to lawyers about lawyers, and not as an advertisement to the general public. Its presentation of individual lawyers’ backgrounds appears to be standardized , and it is the publisher that makes decisions as to what is ultimately appropriate for inclusion in such a directory which does not highlight any particular law firm.
Here, the website is a product of the law firm itself and is obviously intended as a promotional, commercial product aimed at possible consumers of legal services in the public at large. Consequently, we conclude that the judge should not allow the site to include his/her judicial status on the firm’s website.