April 24, 2008
Digest: A judge may donate $600 to a not-for-profit charitable organization for tickets to a gala benefit and may donate the use of a marital vacation home titled in his/her spouse’s name as a prize for the organization’s fund-raising auction.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(C); 100.4(A), (C); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i); 100.5(A)(2)(v); Opinions 06-50; 99-45 (Vol. XVII); 96-115 (Vol. XIV).
A judge who is on the board of directors of a not-for-profit charitable organization inquires whether he/she may purchase, with personal funds, two tickets for $600 to the organization’s gala fund-raising event and donate a long weekend at his/her marital vacation home, titled in his/her spouse’s name, for use as a prize in the organization’s fund-raising auction.
Although the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct require a judge to conduct his/her extra-judicial activities so as to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial obligations, they do not otherwise restrict the price or number of tickets a judge may purchase to a non-political fund-raising event for a charitable organization (compare 22 NYCRR 100.4(A), (C) with 100.5[A][v]). The Committee concludes that a judge may donate $600 to a charity for tickets to a gala fund-raising event (see Opinion 06-50).
With respect to donating a vacation home for use as a prize in a charity’s auction, however, the rules are somewhat more complex. A judge may “assist” a charitable organization “in planning fund-raising” but must not “personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities” (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][i]). Moreover, a judge must not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]).
In Opinion 96-115 (Vol. XIV), this Committee advised that a judge may not donate the use of his/her home as the site of a not-for-profit organization’s fund raising event. “Although great efforts may be taken to avoid the judge’s personal involvement and to obscure the fact that the judge’s home is the site of the annual fund-raising, the use of the judge’s home would, nonetheless, violate the prohibition against the judge personally participating in this organization’s fund-raising activities” (id.). In the present inquiry, however, the Committee concludes that the fund-raising activities are sufficiently remote from the judge that there will be no perception that the judge has personally participated in an organization’s fund-raising. Specifically, all fund-raising activities (the auction and gala benefit) will take place in a location unassociated with the judge; no fund-raising activities will take place at the judge’s home; and, only the judge’s spouse holds title to the home, which is not the primary marital residence. The Committee also notes that there is no suggestion that the judge will be present during the long weekend, which could introduce an element of impermissible personal involvement by the judge (see Opinion 99-45 [Vol. XVII] [judge may not offer as an auction prize the opportunity to dine with the judge]).
The Committee therefore concludes that donating a long weekend at a vacation home solely owned by the judge’s spouse, does not implicate the improper use of the prestige of judicial office (cf. Opinion 99-45 [Vol. XVII] [judge may not offer as an auction prize the opportunity to sit with the judge at Night Court]).