NOTE: This Opinion is modified by Joint Opinion 09-59/09-86.
Digest: A judge may not give permission to a local law firm to issue a press release regarding a judge’s participation in a panel discussion on careers in the law which was co-sponsored by the law firm and a local youth organization; nor may the judge allow the law firm to feature the judge, the judge’s photo or the judge’s participation in the panel discussion on the law firm’s website.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.1; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); Opinion 03-34.
A judge participated as a panelist, along with the District Attorney and other members of the local bar, in a discussion addressing careers in the law. The event was sponsored by a local youth organization and a local law firm. The public relations director for the law firm now asks permission of the judge to issue a press release about the event to local media and post news of the event on the law firm’s web site. Both the press release and the web posting will mention the judge and incorporate a photo of the judge. The judge asks if he/she may consent to the press release or the web posting.
The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct require that a judge act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity, impartiality and independence of the judiciary and that the judge not convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge. 22 NYCRR 100.1; 100.2(A); 100.2(C).
Regarding the law firm’s use of the judge’s name or image on the website, this Committee previously stated that “...[a] 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.” Opinion 03-34. Therefore incorporating the judge’s image into the firm’s web site would, in the Committee’s opinion, create an appearance that the judge maintains a relationship with that firm and would advance the private interests of the firm which might lead individuals to question the judge’s impartiality or convey to them the impression that the law firm is in a special position to influence the judge and, as such, would be impermissible.
The Committee further concludes that it would also be inappropriate to allow the law firm to issue a press release regarding the judge’s participation in the panel discussion. By allowing the firm to issue the press release, the judge would similarly create an impression that the judge maintains a relationship with that firm. Such an impression would advance the private interests of the law firm and might lead others to question the judge’s impartiality and likewise foster an impression that the law firm is in a special position to influence the judge, all of which would be in violation of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. 22 NYCRR 100.1;100.2(A); 100.2(C).