September 16, 2010
Please note that Opinion 05-134, which is cited herein for its discussion of certain prior Opinions, has been overruled by Opinion 12-44. Although readers may wish to review Opinion 12-44 for a more up-to-date discussion of prior Opinions, the advice contained in the present Opinion remains in effect.
Digest: (1) A judge may speak about family law to employees of an insurance company at an Employee Assistance Program event. (2) A judge may not speak about domestic violence from a judge’s perspective given the current economy during a private law firm’s forum for women. (3) A judge may not speak during programs sponsored by not-for-profit organizations that represent victims of domestic abuse.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.3(B)(8); 100.4(A)(1) - (3); 100.4(B); Opinions 08-116; 05-62; 05-12; 04-59; 04-15; 02-20; 01-58 (Vol. XX); 99-46 (Vol. XVII); 98-87 (Vol. XVII); 95-34 (Vol. XIII); 92-83 (Vol. IX).
A full-time judge who presides in a matrimonial part asks whether he/she may engage in the following activities:
1. Speak about family law to employees of an insurance company;
2. Speak about domestic violence from a judge’s perspective given the current economy during a law firm’s forum for women;
3. Speak about a workshop the judge recently conducted to the legal advisory committee of a non-profit organization that represents domestic violence victims; and,
4. Lecture about divorce law during Continuing Legal Education programs offered by non-profit organizations that represent domestic violence victims to attorneys who agree to represent victims pro bono.
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 speak, teach and lecture as long as doing so is not incompatible with judicial office, and does not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge, detract from the dignity of judicial office or interfere with the proper performance of the judge’s judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]-; 100.4[B]).
The Committee previously has advised that a judge may be a speaker or panelist in a Continuing Legal Education program sponsored by a for-profit corporation and open to all members of the bar (see Opinion 05-12); a speaker or panelist at legal education programs co-sponsored by bar associations, not-for-profit corporations, law firms, and for-profit corporations, where the judge is not being compensated (see Opinion 04-15); lecture at a business training workshop offered by a not-for-profit organization (see Opinion 02-20); and lecture about trial techniques for bar and other civic associations (see Opinion 92-83 [Vol. IX]). In the Committee’s view, the inquiring judge’s proposal to speak about family law to insurance company employees also is permissible, subject to the provisions of section 100.4 of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. In addition, the judge may not comment about pending or impending proceedings in any court within the United States or its territories (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[B]) or indicate any predisposition with respect to any class of cases (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]).
However, the inquiring judge may not speak about domestic violence, from a judge’s perspective given the current economy, during a private law firm’s forum for women (see Opinion 01-58 [Vol. XX]) [a full-time judge may not be a provider of instruction in legal writing and advocacy skills to a private law firm]).
Nor may the inquiring judge speak to not-for-profit organizations that represent victims of domestic violence as doing so could cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]). While the Committee previously has advised that a judge may participate in a Domestic Violence Task Force that includes representatives from both the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices without casting doubt on the judge’s impartiality (see Opinion 95-34 [Vol. XIII]) and may even speak about the felony domestic violence part over which the judge presides at a conference about domestic violence (see Opinion 98-87 [Vol. XVII]), the Committee also has advised that a judge may not serve as a member of a Domestic Violence Community Coordinating Council that engages in vigorous advocacy on behalf of domestic violence victims (see Opinion 99-46 [Vol. XVII]); should not attend and participate in monthly meetings of a judges’ working group for a lawyers’ committee against domestic violence (see Opinion 04-59); and should not attend functions sponsored by a domestic violence advocacy organization whose sole purpose is to provide services for domestic violence victims in connection with court proceedings (see Opinion 05-62).
In Opinion 08-116, the Committee advised that:
[I]n each of these activities, the sponsor’s goal was to promote a point of view or to support one side in a particular class of cases (see Opinion 05-134 [discussing cases]). A judge’s participation in these activities, therefore, could reasonably cast doubt on his/her ability to remain impartial in those cases.
For the same reason, the inquiring judge may not speak on behalf of not-for-profit organizations that represent domestic violence victims.