Digest: A judge may accept reimbursement for reasonable and necessary travel and lodging expenses incurred in connection with performing an out-of-town wedding.
Rules: Gen. Mun. Law § 805-b; 22 NYCRR 100.2, 100.4(H)(1)(b); Opinions 88-168 (Vol. III), 89-25 (Vol. III), 93-92 (Vol. XI), 99-94 (Vol. XVII), 01-92 (Vol. XX).
The inquiring judge has been asked to perform a marriage ceremony for a friend with whom the judge enjoys a long acquaintance. The wedding will take place out of town, requiring overnight travel. When the judge advised the couple that he/she would not accept a fee for performing the ceremony, they offered to reimburse travel and lodging expenses incurred in order for the judge to be present and officiate at the ceremony.
It is long-settled that the performance of a wedding by a judge is a permissible extra-judicial activity. See generally, Opinions 88-168 (Vol. III); 89-25 (Vol III); 93-92 (Vol. XI); 01-92 (Vol. XX). Further, the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct provide that a judge may receive reimbursement of reasonable and necessary expenses incurred while carrying out permissible extra-judicial activities. Such expenses include the actual cost of travel, food and lodging reasonably incurred. 22 NYCRR 100.4 (H)(1)(b); see generally Opinion 99-94 (Vol. XVII).
The Committee also considered the constraints imposed by section 805-b of the General Municipal Law which forbids a judge from accepting a gift or benefit in excess of $75, for performing a wedding ceremony.* We believe that reimbursement of reasonable expenses incurred while traveling to perform a wedding at an out-of-town location would not violate this provision, and would not constitute an appearance of impropriety under section 100.2 of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. 22 NYCRR 100.2. Therefore, the judge may receive reimbursement for his/her expenses, as described above.
* Please note that General Municipal Law §805-b has been amended to provide that “no public officer listed in section eleven of the domestic relations law shall be prohibited from accepting any fee or compensation having a value of one hundred dollars or less, whether in the form of money, property, services or entertainment, for the solemnization of a marriage by such public officer at a time and place other than the public officer's normal public place of business, during normal hours of business.” Gen. Mun. L. §805-b (2007) (emphasis added).