September 11, 2008
Digest: A full-time judge may appear in the United States District Court for the limited purpose of sponsoring an attorney for admission to the Court and may move the Court to grant the attorney’s application for admission.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(C); 100.4(G); Opinions 04-31; 96-32 (Vol. XIV); 88-166 (Vol. III); 88-10 (Vol. I).
A full-time judge asks whether he/she may sponsor an attorney who also is the judge’s personal friend, for admission to the local United States District Court by appearing in such court and making a motion. The judge states the attorney does not appear before him/her.
The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct prohibit a judge from lending “the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others” (22 NYCRR 100.2[C]). Nevertheless, the Committee previously has concluded that a judge may submit a letter of reference to support an attorney’s admission to the bar of another state (see Opinion 04-31). The Committee also has advised that a judge may write a letter in support of an attorney seeking admission to an 18-B panel (see Opinion 96-32 [Vol. XIV]); may submit an affidavit of good character for an attorney seeking admission to the New York bar (see Opinion 88-166 [Vol. III]); and write letters of recommendation for applicants to law school (see Opinion 88-10 [Vol. I]). In each instance, the Committee concluded that the proposed conduct is permissible, provided that the judge’s submission was based on his/her personal knowledge of the applicant.
In the present inquiry, the judge’s participation in the attorney’s application for admission goes beyond simply submitting a letter on the attorney’s behalf. Instead, he/she must appear in court and make a motion. Although a full-time judge is prohibited from practicing law (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[G]), in the Committee’s view, moving a court to grant an attorney’s application for admission does not constitute the practice of law. Accordingly, the inquiring judge may appear in Federal court on behalf of his/her personal friend for the limited purpose of moving the court to admit the judge’s friend to practice in the court.