June 6, 2008
Digest: A judge may coordinate a history program and participate as a speaker at the behest of a not-for-profit corporation established for the purposes of preserving the work of a former United States Supreme Court justice. However, the judge may not solicit corporate sponsorships for the program.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(C); 100 .4(A)(1); 100.4(A)(3); Opinions 04-15; 00-98; 99-09
A Town Justice who serves as Program Chair for a local bar association has been asked by a not-for-profit corporation established for the purpose of preserving the work of a former United States Supreme Court justice to coordinate a program on a historic figure of local interest. The program would be open to the public, would not be affiliated with any political purpose and would not be a fund raiser. The program would be sponsored by two local bar associations and would utilize sitting judges as speakers. The inquiring judge asks whether this proposal is permissible and whether non-judges may solicit corporate sponsorships for the program.
The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct require a judge to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities and to refrain from activities that cast a reasonable doubt about the judge’s capacity to act impartially or that interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.4[A]; 100.4[A]). Toward that end, a judge must not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]).
Given the parameters of the program as described, the judge may participate in such a program. This Committee has advised that a judge may speak or participate as a panelist at legal education programs co-sponsored by bar associations, not-for-profit corporations, law firms, or for-profit corporations, where the judge is not being compensated, subject to certain limitations (see Opinion 04-15). Moreover, a judge may attend such programs even if sponsored or underwritten by commercial entities. However, under no circumstances may a judge in any way solicit such sponsorship or underwriting (see Opinion 00-98 [“Friends Committee” consisting entirely of non-judges may solicit commercial sponsorship of programs at judicial convention] and Opinion 99-09 [judge may attend judicial convention even if programs sponsored or underwritten by commercial entities but may not solicit such sponsorship or underwriting]).