Opinion 05-17

March 10, 2005


Digest:         A judge may serve as trustee of a church, provided that the judge does not act as a legal advisor and does not engage in direct fund-raising activities.


Rules:          100.4(C)(3); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(iv); 100.4(G).


         A full-time judge inquiries if he/she may serve as one of three trustees of a church, where the trustees fulfill the following duties:


         1.       Serve as legal representatives in all transactions related to the church;

         2.       Hold legal title to church property;

         3.       Sign all documents related to the purchase, sale, mortgaging, etc. of church property.

         Section 100.4(C)(3) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct provides in part:


A judge may be a member or serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an organization or governmental agency devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice or of an educational, religious, charitable, cultural, fraternal or civic organization not conducted for profit, subject to the following limitations and the other requirements of this Part.

         Section 100.4(G) provides:


(G) Practice of Law. A full-time judge shall not practice law. Notwithstanding this prohibition, a judge may act pro se and may, without compensation, give legal advice to a member of the judge’s family.

         While the rules permit a judge to serve as a trustee of a religious institution, they also state that in that capacity, he/she may not serve as a legal advisor. 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3). Thus, if “legal representative” is the equivalent of “legal advisor” then the judge may not serve as trustee. If, however, it means merely that the trustees have been granted authority to represent the church as its agents in various transactions involving the church, then the judge may serve as trustee.

         We also alert the judge to the prohibitions against actively engaging in fund-raising. 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(iv).