October 28, 2004
Digest: (1) An Advisory Committee to a local court’s Children’s Center may not sponsor a walkathon for court employees on courthouse grounds, or a bake sale conducted exclusively by and for court employees, to raise money for the Children’s Center. (2) Court employees may participate on their own time as volunteers in a fund-raiser on behalf of the Children’s Center that is not conducted on court property or during working hours, provided that there is no sponsorship of the event by the Advisory Committee or the court and no solicitation by them of the employees or the public. (3) The local court State Employees Federated Appeal (SEFA) committee, which has selected as one of its designated charities the non-profit agency that operates the Children’s Center, may conduct a raffle (assuming its lawfulness) to benefit that agency, but only if there is no solicitation by the Advisory Committee or the court and no suggestion of sponsorship by the committee.
Rule: 22 NYCRR 100.3(C)(2), 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i), (iv); Opinions: 95-76 (Vol. XIII); 96-118 (Vol. XIV); 97-17 (Vol. XV); 97-48 (Vol. XV); 98-119 (Vol. XVII).
An Administrative Judge inquires (1) whether the Advisory Committee to a local court’s Children’s Center may raise money for the Center by sponsoring a walkathon for court employees on the grounds of the court complex, or a bake sale conducted by and for court employees, without sale to the public; (2) whether court employees may participate as volunteers on their own time in a fund-raiser on behalf of the Center (such as a golf tournament, walkathon, or fashion show), which would be sponsored by the Family and Children’s Association, a non-profit agency that runs the Center; and (3) whether, under the umbrella of the State Employees Federated Appeal (SEFA), the local court SEFA committee may conduct a raffle to benefit the Family and Children’s Association, which is one of the charities that the local court SEFA committee has chosen for voluntary payroll deductions.
The Children’s Center serves children of litigants in the court, and the court’s Advisory Committee to the Children’s Center oversees its operation. The Advisory Committee is appointed by the Administrative Judge, and consists of judges, non-judicial court administrators, public and private child-care professionals, county officials, and legal aid personnel. The Family and Children’s Association is partially funded by the Office of Court Administration through the New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children.
Section 100.4(C)(3) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct provides that a judge may serve as an officer or non-legal advisor of a charitable or civic organization not conducted for profit, and may assist such an organization in planning fund-raising, “but shall not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities” or “use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising.” 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i), (iv). Section 100.3(C)(2) of the Rules provides that a judge “shall require staff, court officials and others subject to the judge’s direction and control to observe the standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to the judge.”
These Rules prohibit fund-raising not only by judges, but by courts or court entities, such as advisory committees. In applying this prohibition, this Committee has stated that a local Women in the Courts Committee and its Advisory Committee, which are appointed by the local Administrative Judge and consist of judges, attorneys, and child-care professionals, may not participate in public fund-raising in support of a child care center for litigants in the local courts. “[T]he organizations involved are both created by and affiliated with the judiciary and appear to be adjuncts to the court system. Thus, any effort at fund-raising by either committee would, of necessity, be seen by the public as fund-raising by the court system itself, which is prohibited.” Opinion 97-48, Vol. XV. The prohibition against fund-raising by a court entity includes not only solicitation of the public, but also activity that is not directed at the public and is confined to solicitation of contributions from court employees. Thus, a court may not participate in an event in which staff members of the court are permitted to dress casually in return for a $5 donation to a charity. Opinion 95-76, Vol. XIII.
The prohibition against fund-raising by judges or courts does not extend, however, to fund-raising by court employees that is sufficiently separate from the court. Thus, a judge's law clerk may engage in fund-raising activities for a not-for-profit child care center, if the fund-raising is not conducted on court property or during working hours. Opinion 97-17, Vol. XV. But a judge or court may not solicit court employees to volunteer labor on behalf of a nonprofit organization. Opinion 98-119, Vol. XVII. [a judge should not solicit volunteers to do physical labor on behalf of a nonprofit organization, as that “could... lead to a public perception that the prestige of judicial office is being used to support the endeavors of this particular group”].
It is evident from these Rules and Opinions that sponsorship of a fund-raising walkathon or bake sale by the Advisory Committee to the Children's Center could be seen as fund-raising by the court system itself and is prohibited, even if it is addressed exclusively to court employees. Court employees, however, may on their own time and away from court property take part in fund-raising activities on behalf of the Family and Children's Agency, the nonprofit agency that runs the Center, as long as there is no suggestion that the Center's Advisory Committee or the court is sponsoring the event, and there is no solicitation of court employees or the public by the Committee or the court, including solicitation of court employees to take part as volunteers.
As to whether the local court's SEFA committee may conduct a raffle, this Committee takes no position on the lawfulness of such a raffle, as that presents a legal question that is beyond the scope of this Committee. The Committee has stated that, assuming the lawfulness of a raffle, judges may take part in a raffle conducted by a SEFA committee in support of a charity, as long as the judge does not become involved personally in soliciting funds or allow his or her name to be used in the endorsement of the activity. Opinion 96-118, Vol. XIV. Therefore, the local court SEFA committee may conduct a raffle (assuming its lawfulness) in support of the Family and Children's Agency, provided that there is no solicitation by the Center's Advisory Committee or the court to take part in the raffle and no suggestion that they are sponsoring it.