September 11, 2008
Digest: A judge may use personal income to purchase items of nominal value to reward participating defendants in a problem solving court. The expenditure of court funds to purchase such items raises administrative, not ethics, issues.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]; Opinion 02-77, modified on other grounds by Opinion 04-88; Jud. Law 212(l).
A judge who presides in a problem-solving court inquires whether he/she can use personal income to purchase items of nominal value to use as rewards for participating defendants. The judge further inquires whether the court system would be permitted to purchase such items if appropriately budgeted. In either case, the items would be purchased from an independent novelty store. While the items would be inscribed with the court’s name and seal, they would not bear the vendor’s name.
A judge may not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]). Here, however, the judge has indicated that the items would not bear the name of any business entity. Thus, there is no ethical prohibition to using personal income to purchase nominal items which do not advance a commercial interest (contrast Opinion 02-77, modified on other grounds by Opinion 04-88 [ethically impermissible for judge to provide defendants in Drug Court with incentives such as movie passes or coupons from local restaurant]). The expenditure of court funds for such purchases, while not prohibited from an ethics point of view, is an administrative issue, beyond our power to address (see Judiciary Law §212[l]).