April 22, 2004
Digest: A part-time judge who practices law should not allow his/her judicial salary to be designated and shared as "legal fees" of the law firm in which he/she is a partner, but such salary could be taken into account by agreement among the partners in determining the judge's partnership compensation.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.1; 100.2(A).
A part-time judge, who practices law, inquires whether it is proper to designate and share his/her judicial salary as "legal fees of" the law firm in which he/she is a partner. The judge's partners take the position that the judge's salary constitutes "legal fees" of the law firm.
At the outset, we note that the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct set forth standards to assist judges in maintaining high standards of judicial and personal conduct. Section 100.1 of the Rules provides:
An independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. A judge should participate in establishing, maintaining and enforcing high standards of conduct, and shall personally observe those standards so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary will be preserved. The provisions of Part 100 are to be constructed and applied to further that objective. 22 NYCRR 100.1.
Further, section 100.2(A) states:
(A) A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. 22 NYCRR 100.2(A).
In the opinion of the Committee, to allow the sharing of a judge's salary as "legal fees" would undermine the high standards the Rules require. Characterizing such income as just another "legal fee" of a law firm is not only erroneous but would also imply that the law firm and its partners are somehow connected with the judgeship, and potentially creating the impression that judicial responsibilities also somehow being shared with the law firm. Clearly, such an arrangement would undermine public confidence in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.
However, the Committee appreciates that the office of a part-time justice likely impacts upon the amount of time and energy the justice would otherwise devote to the income producing activities of the law firm. We conclude, therefore, that it would not be improper for the judge to enter into an arrangement whereby the time and effort the judge spends on his/her judicial responsibilities are taken into account in determining the judge's partnership compensation.