December 7, 2006
Digest: A full-time judge may not serve as an additional signatory on his/her sibling’s law office escrow account, nor as an attorney in fact to settle the sibling’s law office affairs in the event of the sibling’s death.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.4(E)(1); 100.4(G); Opinions 00-76 (Vol. XIX); 95-134 (Vol. XIII); 93-81 (Vol. XI).
A full-time judge would like to be designated as both an additional signatory on his/her sibling’s law office escrow account, in the event that the sibling dies or becomes disabled, and as the attorney authorized to settle the sibling’s professional affairs (primarily the sibling’s legal practice) in the event of the sibling’s death.
The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct prohibit a full-time judge from practicing law. 22 NYCRR 100.4(G). The rules do, however, allow a full-time judge to provide uncompensated legal advice to a member of the judge’s family or to serve as a fiduciary in limited circumstances involving the estate or a trust of a member of the judge’s family. 22 NYCRR 100.4(E)(1); 100.4(G). These exceptions allow the judge to perform functions including acting as the executor of the sibling’s estate, or as the attorney in fact designated to perform ministerial duties and functions during a period of the sibling’s disability and as a legal representative after the sibling’s death. Opinions 00-76 (Vol. XIX); 95-134 (Vol. XIII); 93-81 (Vol. XI).
However, the actions specified in this inquiry, i.e., serving as an additional signatory for a lawyer’s escrow account and as an attorney designated to settle the law office affairs, are not within the permissible fiduciary exceptions and would constitute the impermissible practice of law under these rules. 22 NYCRR 100.4(G). Accordingly, the judge may not serve in the capacities specified in the inquiry.