June 9, 2006
This is in response to your inquiry (06-85) asking whether the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct would prohibit you from writing a letter to [ ]in support of the [ ]’s application for continued funding. You have stated that [ ]has appeared before you many times, that you have been very impressed with the work that [ ] does, and that you would like to write a letter extolling their virtues, barring any ethical reason not to do so.
A judge is prohibited from using the “prestige of office to advance the private interest of the judge or others.” 22 NYCRR 100.2 (C). In Joint Opinion 01-100/01-101 (Vol. XX), however, this Committee distinguished this general rule from circumstances in which judges provide letters of support based on their personal knowledge and experience, expressing “views concerning the performance and professional conduct of attorneys who are affiliated with [legal services organizations]” seeking to enter into a contract with a municipality. Id.
In Joint Opinion 01-100/01-101, the Committee emphasized that views expressed in such letters should be “the product of the judge’s personal observation and experience,” and “limited to questions of performance and professional conduct.” Id. The Committee advised that the judge “should not recommend that an organization’s bid should be accepted” given the lack of personal knowledge regarding the details of the proposal, and explicitly limited the permissible scope of the letter to the judge’s own first-hand knowledge of the organization.
Accordingly, you may write a letter in support of[ ], provided that the letter (1) sets forth only your own personal knowledge and experience with this organization in your court, (2) is limited to objective facts, and (3) does not include an opinion regarding the merits of any particular contractual arrangement that might be under consideration. You are further advised that if you choose to write the letter on judicial letterhead, it should be prominently marked “personal and unofficial.”