June 12, 2003
Digest: A judge may participate as a panelist and lecturer on the law of evidence at the annual meeting of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, provided that the judge does not comment on pending or impending cases, and does not indicate a pre-disposition to rule in a particular way concerning legal issues that may come before the judge.
Rule: 22 NYCRR 100.3(B)(8); 100.4(A)(1); 100.4(B); 100.4(C)(3); 100.4(H)(1)(b). Opinions 98-50 (Vol. XVI); 98-149 (Vol. XVII).
A judge has been invited to participate as panelist and lecturer on the law of evidence at the annual meeting of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (“NACDL”). There is no compensation being received, but the judge will be reimbursed for the cost of a round-trip airplane ticket and one night’s lodging. The judge asks whether participation in the meeting and acceptance of reimbursement for expenses are permissible.
A judge may, of course, write, lecture and teach, and participate in the activities of organizations devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system and the administration of justice. 22 NYCRR 100.4(B)(C)(3). Here, the NACDL describes itself as a professional bar association whose membership consists primarily of criminal defense lawyers, but also includes law professors and judges “committed to preserving fairness within America’s criminal justice system.”
The status of NACDL as a bar association clearly qualifies the organization as one before which the judge could appear as a lecturer. The fact that the organization has a particular professional focus does not at all diminish its status as an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice. Thus, in Opinion 98-149 (Vol. XVII), the Committee concluded that a judge could accept a free judicial membership in the American Trial Lawyers Association, an organization whose membership is composed overwhelmingly of lawyers representing plaintiffs in tort actions. Quoting from Opinion 98-50 (Vol. XVI), the Committee stated that a designation as a bar association “is acceptable without regard to the breadth of membership or the particular legal focus of the group,” provided that its fundamental purpose is as stated in section 100.4(C)(3). And it follows, in our view, that if the stated purpose of the organization allows for judicial membership, then it also allows for participation as a lecturer.
NACDL meets those criteria expressed in the Rules and thus the judge may attend and participate in its annual meeting as contemplated. But, as also stated in Opinion 98-149 (Vol. XVII), the nature and extent of such participation may well be subject to ethical limitations. In this particular instance that would mean that the judge, in the course of the lecture or panel discussion, may not publicly comment on any pending or impending proceedings. 22 NYCRR 100.3(B)(8). Nor may the judge express views that indicate a predisposition to rule in a certain way concerning legal issues that may come before the judge. 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(1).
Subject to such limitations, the judge may attend and participate as a lecturer and panelist. It likewise follows that the judge may accept reimbursement for “the actual cost of travel, food and lodging reasonably incurred by the judge. . . “ 22 NYCRR 100.4(H)(1)(b).