May 6, 2010
This responds to your inquiry (10-30) asking about the ethical considerations regarding your membership in several not-for-profit organizations which involve charitable and civic pursuits, in light of your recent elected position as part-time town justice. In addition, you ask whether you may provide legal services to these entities; assist in any fund-raising efforts; and whether the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct permit participation in "hobby clubs" devoted to the breeding and showing of pure-bred dogs.
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 of or serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an educational, religious, charitable, cultural, fraternal or civic organization not conducted for profit, subject to certain limitations (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C]; see also Opinions 09-170; 07-81 and 97-134, enclosed for your convenience).
Here, the not-for-profit organizations you describe involve a variety of civic and community activities. As long as these activities do not involve any issues that would embroil you in a "substantial public controversy" or in any way compromise your ability to properly and impartially perform your judicial responsibilities, it is ethically permissible for you to continue your membership in these not-for-profit entities.
You further inquire whether you may continue to provide legal services for these entities. A part-time judge may provide legal services for a not-for-profit entity (see 22 NYCRR 106.6[B]; 100.4[G]; Opinion 09-131). The legal services you describe, however, are not subject to the limitations and formalities this Committee has imposed where a part-time attorney/judge provides legal services to an organization which is either highly controversial (see Opinion 98-74) or political (see Opinion 09-165) in nature and/or likely to appear as a party before the judge.
As for fund raising, a judge may not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities, although he/she “may assist” the organization in “planning fund-raising” (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][i]). Enclosed, for your convenience, is Opinion 09-170 which sets forth further limitations on a judge’s fund-raising activities.
Finally, the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct do not prohibit participation in not-for-profit hobby clubs, such as the ones you describe in your inquiry.