June 10, 2010
Digest: A judge may serve on a committee formed to urge a county legislature to adopt a resolution naming a court building in honor of a deceased judge.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(B); 100.4(C)(3); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i)-(iv); Opinions 09-153; 07-134; 98-145 (Vol. XVII).
An attorney has asked the inquiring judge to serve on a committee formed to urge a county legislature to adopt a resolution naming a court building in honor of a deceased judge. According to information the judge provided, the committee would comprise “prominent members of the Bench and Bar” who support the resolution. The attorney also has asked the judge to “send a letter indicating why you support such an effort” to the legislator who is sponsoring the resolution. The judge has furnished background information indicating that the resolution has inspired some local controversy and that the legislature previously declined to adopt it. The judge asks whether he/she may serve on the committee and send the requested letter.
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 must conduct all of his/her extra-judicial activities so that they are not incompatible with judicial office and do 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 judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]-).
In general, a judge may speak and write subject to the requirements of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[B]) and may participate as a non-legal advisor in organizations devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C]).
The Committee previously has advised that a judge may serve as president of a corporation formed to collect and disburse funds raised by others to construct and maintain a memorial to honor the victims of a plane crash and to assist families of the crash victims who are in need (see Opinion 09-153) and on a local committee formed to create a memorial in honor of war veterans (see Opinions 07-134; 98-145 [Vol. XVII]).
Similarly, the inquiring judge may serve on a committee in support of naming a court building in honor of a deceased judge and may write a letter in support to the legislator sponsoring the resolution to do so. The Committee believes that this activity would tend to foster respect for the law, the legal system and the administration of justice and, therefore, would be permitted by the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C]). The fact that a majority of legislators previously rejected a similar resolution does not necessarily render the issue so controversial that the inquiring judge’s involvement would detract from the dignity of judicial office or otherwise interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties (cf. 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]-).
As a committee member, the judge may permit his/her name to be listed in support of the resolution and may publicly express his/her opinion of the late judge’s career and contributions to the law. However, the judge must not personally participate in or allow his/her name to be used for any Committee fund-raising activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][i]-[iv]; Opinion 09-153).