September 7, 2006
Digest: (1) Judges may be honored, speak, and/or present awards at fund-raising events sponsored by the Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York. (2) Judges may not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities on behalf of the Historical Society, nor may fund-raising events be held at courthouses.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i), (ii), (iv); Opinions 04-119; 03-54; 01-39 (Vol. XX); 98-50 (Vol. XVI); 97-48 (Vol. XV); 95-76 (Vol. XIII); 94-48 (Vol. XII).
An administrative judge inquires on behalf of the Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York ("Historical Society") whether it is permissible (1) for judges to be honored, speak, or present awards at fund-raising events sponsored by the Historical Society; and (2) for the Historical Society to hold fund-raising events in the historic first-floor rotunda of the New York County Courthouse or in other court houses around the State.
Section 100.4(C)(3)(b)(ii) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct states that a judge may not be the speaker or guest of honor at an organization's fund-raising event, unless the organization is a bar association, court employee organization, or law school. The Committee has adopted an inclusive definition of "bar association," encompassing a wide variety of legal organizations which are composed of members of the bar and whose purpose is to promote and improve the law, the legal system and the administration of justice. Opinion 98-50 (Vol. XVI). An organization need not be formally organized as a bar association to fall within the exception to the rule, provided that it is comprised primarily of attorneys and is devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice. Opinions 03-54; 01-39 (Vol. XX); 94-48 (Vol. XII).
The inquirer advises that the Historical Society is a not-for-profit organization comprised overwhelmingly of lawyers and judges, joined together to preserve the legal history of New York State and to foster scholarly understanding and public appreciation of the history of the Judiciary and Bar. The Society sponsors continuing legal education programs for lawyers and judges; publishes a peer-reviewed scholarly journal devoted to the analysis and dissemination of the history of New York's courts, laws, judges and lawyers; and is in the process of publishing a volume of biographical essays about the judges who have served on the State's highest court. As such, it is the opinion of the Committee that the Historical Society functions as a bar association, and therefore the exception contained in section 100.4(C)(3)(b)(ii) should apply. Accordingly, judges may be honored, speak or present awards at the organization's dinner. Opinions 01-39; 98-50 (Vol XVI); 94-48 (Vol. XII).
Judges may not, however, personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for such purposes. 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i), (iv); Opinions 98-50 (Vol. XVI); 97-48 (Vol. XV). Any involvement that would be seen by the public as fund-raising by the court system itself is also prohibited. Opinion 97-48 (XV). The Committee emphasizes that the rules prohibiting fund-raising apply not only to judges, but also to courts and court entities, and to fund-raising on court property. Opinions 04-119; 95-76 (Vol. XIII). It is thus the opinion of the Committee that while the purposes of the Historical Society are undoubtedly laudable, the Historical Society should not conduct its fund-raising activities in the rotunda of the New York County Courthouse or at any other courthouse.