September 14, 2004
Digest: A judge may not be the guest of honor and accept an award from a civic/charitable organization at an advertised cocktail reception where there is fund-raising by way of soliciting donations prior to the event.
Rule: 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b) (ii), (iv).
A judge inquires if it is permissible to accept an award honoring the judge, for his/her work in the Mental Health Court of a county, at an advertised cocktail reception sponsored by a non-profit organization devoted to meeting the mental health needs of juveniles. The cost of the reception is fully underwritten and there is no charge for attendance.
The proposed invitation for the event will bear the name of the judge as the honoree and state that “Donations are appreciated.” The response card accompanying the invitation lists suggested dollar amounts of “100% tax-deductible donation[s]” ranging from $250, $100, $50, $25 and “other.
The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct address the role of a judge in events sponsored by a civic, charitable, fraternal, cultural, religious or educational organization. Section 100.4(C)(3)(b)(ii) provides that a judge “may not be a speaker or the guest of honor at an organization’s fund-raising events, but the judge may attend such events. Nothing in this subparagraph shall prohibit a judge from being a speaker or guest of honor at a court employee organization, bar association or law school function or from accepting at another organization’s fund-raising event an unadvertised award ancillary to such event.” Additionally, section 100.4(C)(3)(b)(iv) provides that a judge “shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising.”
Although there is no solicitation of funds at the reception itself, the solicitation of donations on the invitation, in our view, constitutes fund-raising. This is especially so since the entire cost of the dinner has been underwritten. The invitation, identifying the judge as an honoree coupled with its request for donations, thus falls within the prohibitions against a judge permitting the use of the prestige of his office for fund-raising, or otherwise engaging in fund-raising activities.