April 27, 2006
Digest: (1) A county Magistrates’ Association may donate funds to a not-for-profit organization, provided the contribution is not political or otherwise improper. (2) The Association may hire a public relations firm to help improve the public’s perception of the judiciary and its function.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.0(A); 100.0(M); 100.3(B)(8); 100.4(C)(3)(b); 100.5(A)(1)(h); Opinions 04-140; 04-01; 03-103; 99-59 (Vol. XVIII); 98-40 (Vol. XVI); 97-97 (Vol. XVI); 94-22 (Vol. XII); 93-78 (Vol. XI); 91-116 (Vol. VIII); 88-143 (Vol. III)
The president of a county Magistrates’ Association (the “Association”) asks on its behalf if the Association is permitted to contribute to a not-for-profit organization. The donation would come from dues collected or otherwise donated to the Association, by the various justices. The president also asks whether the Association may hire a public relations firm to respond to negative media coverage of a justice’s decision or to otherwise remind the public of a justice’s obligations, which sometimes require making unpopular decisions.
Judges may contribute to any permissible charity or not-for-profit organization. Opinions 04-140; 03-103; 99-59 (Vol. XVIII); 98-40 (Vol. XVI). A judge may not, however, contribute to a political organization or to a candidate for elective office. 22 NYCRR 100.0(A); 100.0(M); 100.5(A)(1)(h).
The Association, as an organization of justices, is held to the same standards as an individual judge. Opinion 93-78 (Vol. XI); see also Opinion 97-97 (Vol. XVI). Therefore, assuming that the contribution will not be political or otherwise impermissible, the Association may contribute to a not-for-profit organization.
Further, while the Association may solicit dues from its members, judges who are members of the organization should not personally solicit contributions for the non-profit organization, either from any other judge or from members of the public. 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b); Opinions 91-116 (Vol. VIII); 88-143 (Vol. III).
The Association may hire a public relations firm to improve the public’s perception of the judiciary and its function. Opinions 93-78 (Vol. XI). Members and officers of the Association and the public relations firm acting on its behalf will be subject to the restrictions on public comment by judges, contained in the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, however. This includes preclusion of any comment regarding pending or impending proceedings in any court within the United States or its territories. 22 NYCRR 100.3(B)(8); Opinions 04-01; 94-22 (Vol. XII). Therefore, the Association in general, and its officers in particular, are responsible for any activities or statements made by the public relations firm on behalf of the Association, and should therefore review and approve, in advance, any comments made or actions taken by the firm on behalf of the Association.