Opinion 10-137

October 28, 2010


Digest:         A judge may not accept a leadership position that would make the judge responsible for increasing the membership of a not-for-profit civic or fraternal organization such as the Boy Scouts of America.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(C)(3); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(I); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(iv); Opinions 09-57; 06-113; 05-66; 98-119 (Vol. XVII).


         A judge asks whether he/she may accept the position of Vice-President of Membership for a regional council of a youth organization. According to information the judge provided, the position is designed to “provide leadership to the [organization’s] membership efforts and guidance to the committees responsible for membership growth so as to allow for an increase in youth membership and units annually.” The job description the judge provided also enumerates several responsibilities of the position, such as: (1) “recruit[ing] chairmen” for certain committees; (2) “identify[ing] organizations that the [organization] can partner with to charter additional [organization] units”; (3) “assist[ing] in recruiting a Membership Committee Chairman for each district” and conducting meetings with them; (4) hosting “a meeting for school superintendents ... to inform them of [organization’s] mission and progress and to recognize them for their support”; and (5) reporting to the board “on membership growth progress and trends affecting the council’s outreach.”

         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 be a member or serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of a not-for-profit educational, religious, charitable, cultural, fraternal or civic organization, subject to certain limitations (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3]). Among other restrictions, a judge may not personally solicit funds or participate in other fund-raising activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][I]) and may not use or permit the use of prestige of judicial office to solicit membership (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][iv]; see also 22 NYCRR 100.2[C] [a judge may not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others]).

         In the Committee’s view, the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct preclude a judge from accepting a leadership position, such as Vice President of Membership, that would make the judge responsible for increasing membership of a not-for-profit organization (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][iv]). If a judge accepted such an appointment, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to avoid the perception that the prestige of judicial office is being used to solicit membership in the organization (see id.).

         Moreover, although a judge who is on the board of a not-for-profit organization may recruit existing members of the organization to participate in a project sponsored by the organization (see Opinion 09-57), this Committee has advised that a judge may not recruit outside volunteers to participate in the organization’s projects (see Opinion 98-119 [Vol. XVII]) or to serve on the organization’s committees or board of directors (see Opinions 06-113; 05-66). Thus, several of the specifically enumerated job responsibilities of the Vice President of Membership are also prohibited for that reason.