June 9, 2005
Digest: A judge may attend a bar-sponsored Continuing Legal Education (“CLE”) program as a guest of the bar association and may allow his or her law clerk to attend the same program, also as a guest of the bar association.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 50.1(I)(C); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(ii).
A full-time judge who sits in a specialty part, and the judge’s law clerk are both invited to be guests of a bar association at a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) program sponsored by the bar association’s committee that focuses on practice in that specialty. The published cost of admission to the event would be $35.00 for bar members and $50.00 for non-members. The judge asks if he/she may attend as a guest of the bar association and if the judge may allow his/her law clerk similarly to attend as a guest of the association.
The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct clearly allow the judge to accept this invitation to attend as a bar association guest. 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(ii). However, neither the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (22 NYCRR Part 100), nor the Rules Governing the Conduct of Non-Judicial Court Employees (22 NYCRR Part 50) appears specifically to address whether the judge may allow the law clerk to attend with the judge or whether the law clerk may accept an individual invitation to attend as a guest of the bar association.
We note that Part 50 of the Rules of the Chief Judge does prohibit a non-judicial employee from soliciting, accepting or agreeing to accept any gift or gratuity from attorneys or other persons having, or likely to have any transactions with the court system. 22 NYCRR 50.1(I)(c). But, in our view, there is no violation of judicial ethics in the judge permitting the law clerk to be a beneficiary of the waiver. Certainly, neither the bar association nor its subcommittee, as entities, are likely to have any transaction with the court. In addition, the law clerk’s attendance at the CLE program could conceivably enhance the law clerk’s professionalism, skills, and performance, all to the benefit of the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.
Although this Committee is not in a position to address the specific propriety of the law clerk’s attendance under Part 50, the Committee sees no ethical distinction between the bar association’s invitation to the judge and the invitation simultaneously extended to the law clerk to attend with the judge. Therefore, it is the opinion of the Committee that the judge may attend this bar-sponsored CLE function as a guest of the bar association, and may allow the law clerk also to attend, with the judge, as a guest of the bar association. As for the question of whether the law clerk may properly accept the bar association’s invitation to be its guest, without violating 22 NYCRR 50.1(I)(c), its resolution must be left to the Unified Court System, the agency with the ultimate authority to interpret that rule.