Opinion 10-24


January 27-28, 2010

 

Digest:         A full-time judge may accept an invitation from a government agency of another country to speak at a forum about the administration of justice and may accept the agency's offer of a $3,000 stipend and payment of airfare and local accommodations for a three-day visit.

 

Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.3(B)(8); 100.3(B)(9). 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(B); 100.4(H)(1)(a); 100.4(H)(1)(b); 100.4(H)(2); Opinions 06-103; 03-82.


Opinion:


         A full-time judge has been invited by a foreign government agency to speak at a forum about the administration of justice. The agency has offered to pay for the judge's airfare and local accommodations for a three-day visit and would also provide a stipend or honorarium of $3,000. The judge asks whether he/she may accept the invitation to speak and the stipend. The judge notes that he/she would take personal time to attend the program and that he/she does not anticipate that matters involving this foreign government or its agents will come before his/her court.


         A judge must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety (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]). Thus, a judge may speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in extra-judicial activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[B]), as long as such activities are not incompatible with judicial office and do not cast 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 judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A][1]-[3]). A full-time judge may receive compensation and reimbursement of expenses for permissible extra-judicial activities, provided it does not exceed a reasonable amount nor exceed what a non- judge would receive for the same activity (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[H][1][a]). Expense reimbursement is limited to the actual costs of travel, food, and lodging reasonably incurred by the judge; any payment in excess of such an amount is deemed compensation (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[H][1][b]). A full-time judge who receives compensation in excess of $150 must report such compensation to the office of the clerk of the judge's court as specified in the Rules (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[H][2]).


         Based on the information provided, the sponsoring organization (a governmental entity which does not appear before the judge) and the topic (the administration of justice) do not appear potentially to compromise the judge's neutrality or detract from the dignity of judicial office and, therefore, the speaking engagement is itself permissible (see generally 22 NYCRR 100.4[A][1]-[3]). However, the judge must refrain, at all times, from commenting on any pending or impending case in the United States or its territories or from in any way indicating a predisposition to decide a case in a particular way (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[B][8]; 100.3[B][9]).


         The Committee further advises that the judge may accept the stipend and the payment of the airline ticket as they appear to be appropriate and reasonable under the circumstances presented (see Opinion 06-103 [judge may accept an honorarium and an airline ticket from a church that has invited the judge to speak at a Women's Day Program which is not a fund-raising event]; cf. Opinion 03-82 [permitting judge to accept a monetary stipend of $2,500 in connection with a community service award from a not-for-profit foundation at a non-fund-raising function, subject to reporting requirements]).


         However, the judge should file an appropriate disclosure to the extent that he/she receives the $3,000 stipend and/or other compensation (excluding the actual cost of travel, food and lodging expenses reasonably incurred by the judge) that, in aggregate for this event, exceeds the $150 threshold (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[H][2]).