Opinion 10-68


April 22, 2010


Digest:         A judge may serve as treasurer of a county bar association and, in that capacity, may issue checks to pay bills and may accept dues from members of the association, including attorneys that appear before the judge, but the judge’s name must not be used in connection with soliciting dues and the judge must refrain from participating in any fund-raising activities other than to assist in planning such activities or to manage or invest any funds that are raised.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(C)(3); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(iv); Opinions 08-156; 03-129; 03-63; 01-28 (Vol. XIX); 98-32 (Vol. XVI); 96-49 (Vol. XIV); 95-102 (Vol. XIII); 91-116 (Vol. VIII); 88-100 (Vol. II).


         A part-time judge asks whether he/she may serve as treasurer of a county bar association. The judge states that the treasurer’s responsibilities include paying bills on behalf of the association and collecting dues from member attorneys, including practitioners who may appear before him/her in 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 must conduct all of the judge’s extra-judicial activities so that they are not incompatible with judicial office and do not (1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge; (2) detract from the dignity of judicial office; or (3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties (see NYCRR 100.4[A][1]-[3]). A judge may serve as a member or officer of an organization or governmental agency devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice or a fraternal or civic organization not conducted for profit, subject to certain limitations (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3]). As an officer of such an organization or agency, the judge must not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or in other fund-raising activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i]) and shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising or membership solicitation (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][iv]). However, the judge’s name and office may be listed on the organization’s regular letterhead as an officer of the organization, even if the letterhead will be used for fund-raising or membership solicitation (see id). The judge may also assist the organization in “planning fund-raising” and may participate in the management and investment of the organization’s funds (22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i]).

         Relying on the commentaries to Canon 4 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, the Committee has advised that “a judge’s serving as a member or officer in a bar association is to be encouraged” (Opinion 88-100 [Vol. II]). Therefore, a judge may serve as president of a bar association (see Opinions 03-63; 96-49 [Vol. XIV]) or as treasurer of a civic or professional organization, subject to certain limitations (see Opinions 01-28 [Vol. XIX] [religious based not-for-profit home and infirmary for the aged]; 98-32 [Vol. XVI] [civil service employee association at local high school]; 95-102 [Vol. XIII] [town fire department]; 91-116 [Vol. VIII] [county magistrates’ association]).

         However, a judge’s name should not be used in the solicitation of contributions (see Opinions 01-28 [Vol. XIX]; 95-102 [Vol. XIII]). Nevertheless, a judge may act as treasurer for the sole purpose of receiving dues, depositing funds and paying bills (see Opinion 95-102 [Vol. XIII]; see also Opinion 03-129 [as president of synagogue, judge may deposit dues and oversee disbursements]).

         Therefore, the inquiring judge may serve as treasurer of a county bar association, subject to certain restrictions. The judge may pay the association’s bills and may accept and deposit dues from attorneys who appear before the judge. However, while the judge may solicit other judges, he/she may not personally solicit membership or dues from non-judge members or non-judge prospective members (see Opinion 08-156; 91-116 [Vol. VIII]). Nor may the judge’s name be used in connection with dues notices (see Opinion 01-28 [Vol. XIX]), even on the return address of the stationery or envelope and even if the judge’s judicial title is omitted (see Opinion 95-102 [Vol. XIII]). The judge may nonetheless “assist ... in planning” fund-raising activities and may manage or invest funds resulting from any fund-raising (22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i]).