October 23, 2008
Digest: A judge may serve on the Executive Committee of the ****** County Inn of Court. The judge may solicit other judges to join the organization, but may not solicit attorneys to join.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(A) (1)-(3); 100.4(C)(3); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i),(iv); Opinions 03-63; 00-41 (Vol. XIX); 98-50 (Vol. XVI); 96-19 (Vol. XIV); 92-07 (Vol. IX); 91-72 (Vol. VII).
A full-time judge asks whether it is ethically permissible for him/her to serve on the Executive Committee of the ***** County ***** Inn of Court. The judge also asks whether he/she may sign a letter soliciting other attorneys to join or re-join the organization. The judge advises that members must pay dues to maintain a membership.
According to its self description, ***** Inns of Court “are designed to improve the skills, professionalism and ethics of the bench and bar. An ***** Inn of Court is an amalgam of judges, lawyers, and in some cases, law professors and law students. Each Inn meets approximately once a month both to ‘break bread’ and to hold programs and discussions on matters of ethics, skills and professionalism” (www.innsofcourt.org ).
A judge must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all the judge’s activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge may engage in extra-judicial activities that do not cast doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge; that do not detract from the dignity of judicial office; and that do not interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties and are not incompatible with judicial office (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A] - ). In particular, a judge may be a member or serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C]).
The Committee previously has advised that a judge may serve as a member of the board of directors of a bar association(see Opinions 03-63; 91-72 (Vol. VII). In Opinion 98-50 (Vol. XVI), the Committee adopted an inclusive definition of “bar association” that encompasses a wide variety of legal organizations comprising members of the bar whose purpose is to promote and improve the legal system and the administration of justice. Although not expressly entitled “Bar Association,” the organization that is the subject of the present inquiry meets the broad criteria the Committee has adopted to define a bar association, and, therefore, the inquiring judge may be a member and serve on the board of directors.
Pursuant to the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, a judge may not use the prestige of judicial office to solicit new members of an organization (see 22 NYCRR 100.4 [C][b][i], [iv]). The Committee has advised, however, that a judge may solicit other judges to join an organization, as in doing so, there is no risk of an appearance of coercion as there might be when a judge solicits attorneys (see Opinions 00-41 [Vol. XIX]; 96-19 [Vol. XIV]; 92-07 [Vol. IX]).