February 22, 2007
Digest: A judge should not help to promote a program for at-risk youth, where his/her court is empowered to refer parties to the program, and where promoting it involves soliciting volunteers.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.4(A); 100.4(c)(3)(b)(iv); Opinions 06-113; 06-64; 02-91; 00-06 (Vol. XVIII); 91-20 (Vol. VII).
A Family Court judge asks whether he/she may help promote a new program, under the auspices of a national not-for-profit group, which will provide volunteer mentors for his/her community’s at-risk youth. The program will receive referrals from schools, probation officers, and the Family Court itself. The judge wishes to participate in a press conference to kick off the new program, and to educate the community by speaking at community meetings, such as those of the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club. At these meetings, a different committee member will provide information about how to become a mentor.
This Committee has previously concluded that a Family Court judge should not serve as a director for a not-for-profit agency that provides services to persons who may have been referred to that agency by the Family Court. Opinions 07-02; 02-91; see also Opinions 00-06 (Vol. XVIII); 91-20 (Vol. VII). It also has held it improper for a part-time judge to serve as a mediator with an agency if the judge’s court has the power to refer cases to that agency. Opinion 06-64. In both situations, the Committee determined that such activities would create an appearance of impropriety because the judges were empowered to refer parties before them to these entities. Id.; 22 NYCRR 100.2(C); 100.4(A). The Committee concluded that participation in such activities would create an actual or perceived conflict between the judge’s adjudicative duties and his/her role in the particular program. The Committee notes that the present inquiry presents these same obstacles.
Further, the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct prohibit a judge from using the prestige of judicial office to solicit volunteers for charitable or civic organizations. 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(iv); see also Opinion 06-113. Therefore, to the extent that promotion of the program involves the solicitation of volunteers, participation by the Judge would be further prohibited.
Accordingly, we conclude the judge may not help to promote this program.