April 27, 2006
Digest: A judge may attend the annual dinner dance sponsored by a local lawyers association located in the county in which the judge presides, even where a lawyer who appears before the judge’s court is the honoree at the event.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.3(E)(1); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i); Opinions 03-55; 89-46 (Vol. III).
A village justice inquires whether it is ethically permissible to attend the annual dinner dance of a local lawyers association of the county in which he/she presides. An honoree at the dinner dance is a lawyer who appears before the inquirer’s court and presently has at least one case on the docket.
The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct specifically permit a judge to attend a bar association’s fund-raising events, and be a speaker or guest of honor at such events. 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(ii). Consistent with this Rule, this Committee has previously opined that a judge may attend the fund-raising dinner of a legal services organization, even where the organization itself represents litigants in the judge’s court. Opinion 89-46 (Vol. III). Likewise, we have concluded that a judge and the judge’s spouse may be the guests of a bar association for its annual dinner dance. Opinion 03-55. In light of these precedents, this Committee can discern no apparent prohibition on the judge’s attendance at the dinner dance at issue. In our opinion, the fact that the attendance is at an event honoring a lawyer who appears in the judge’s court does not suffice to create an appearance of impropriety or raise a reasonable question as to the judge’s impartiality should that attorney appear before the judge, especially in light of the fact that the judge’s participation in the event is limited to his/her attendance. 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.3(E)(1).