June 8, 2006
Digest: A judge, who was involved in the preparation of a holiday display at a law office before assuming the bench, may continue to do so in the circumstances presented: the display preparation work uses volunteers with no fund-raising involved or donations accepted; there is no charge to the public to view the display, and there is no sponsorship or advertisements for products or services involved. The judge should, however, make all efforts to obscure the law office sign on the premises for the duration of the event. The judge may also serve as the Master of Ceremonies, speak and otherwise attend the event.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.3(A); 100.4(A)(2),(3), 100.5(A)(1); Opinions 97-06 (Vol. XV), 91-83 (Vol. VIII), 88-13 (Vol. I).
A recently-elected sitting judge inquires whether he/she can help prepare an elaborate holiday display that has been set up for over 20 years at the judge’s home-office, which is now the law office of the judge’s previous law partner. The inquirer explains that the display has consistently attracted great attention and community participation.
The judge advises that construction of the display begins in late October and continues until Opening Night, usually the first weekend of December. All construction is done after the law office has closed and is performed by the judge, the judge’s family, and volunteers. No one is compensated for their help with the construction of the display. The judge personally pays for the cost of all decorations, and there are no donations accepted, whatsoever. There is also no charge to the public to view the display. There are no sponsorships involved, nor are there any advertisements for any products or services except for the law office sign, which is a permanent fixture in the yard.
Based on these facts, the judge asks:
(1) Is the judge precluded from serving as the Master of Ceremonies for the Opening Night festivities?
(2) If the judge may not serve as the Master of Ceremonies, may the judge participate in the event, such as by giving a welcoming speech?
(3) If the judge may not serve as a Master of Ceremonies or as a speaker, may the judge attend the event with no further participation?
(4) May the judge participate in the construction of the display?
(5) Is there any issue with the location of the display, as noted above?
The Committee’s responses to the numbered inquiries are as follows:
(1) The judge may serve as the Master of Ceremonies, as described, since there is no fund-raising aspect, notwithstanding any religious connotations that may be associated with the event. Opinion 88-13 (Vol. I); see also Opinion 97-06 (Vol. XV).
(2) The judge may give a welcoming speech. Opinion 91-83 (Vol. VIII); see also Opinion 97-06, supra.
(3) The judge may attend the event. Id.
(4) The judge may participate in the construction of the display, provided that it does not conflict with the judge’s judicial duties. See 22 NYCRR 100.3(A); 100.4(A)(2), (3).
(5) The Committee further advises that the judge make all efforts to cover or obscure the law office sign for the period of the event to prevent even the appearance that the judge is endorsing the law office. See 22 NYCRR 100.2(A).
Finally, the judge must ensure that his/her involvement with the event festivities does not detract from the dignity of judicial office or create even the appearance that he/she is engaging in impermissible political activity. See 22 NYCRR 100.4(2); 100.5(A)(1).