December 8, 2011
Digest: A judge who is a director of a not-for-profit organization may permit his/her name to be listed along with the other directors on the organization’s website, even if the border of each page of the website contains links that solicit donations.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(iv); Opinions 05-104; 95-161 (Vol. XIV).
A judge who has been invited to serve as a member of the board of directors of a not-for-profit organization asks whether he/she may permit his/her name to be listed on the organization’s website as a board member where every page of the website, including the page on which the directors’ names appear, contains links soliciting donations. The judge states that these links are contained in “the border section” of each page and are labeled “Make a Donation Today!” or “Donate Online Today.” The judge notes that the names of all the directors are listed on “a separate page” without any job titles or honorifics, and the judge’s name would also be listed without any judicial designation.
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge must not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]) and must not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising or membership solicitation (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][iv]). A judge may nonetheless serve and be listed as an officer, director or trustee of a not-for-profit organization, and “[u]se of an organization’s regular letterhead for fund-raising or membership solicitation does not violate this provision, provided the letterhead lists only the judge’s name and office or other position in the organization and, if comparable designations are listed for other persons, the judge’s judicial designation” (22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][iv]).
In the Committee’s view, the judge may permit his/her name to be included on the organization’s online list of board members under the circumstances presented (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][iv]). The mere fact that the border of this page, like the borders of all other pages in the website, contains a link to solicit donations does not (without more) involve the judge in any prohibited solicitation of funds because the clear intention of the page is to inform the public of the identity of the board members, rather than to raise funds (cf. Opinions 05-104 [judge may be honored at an educational foundation’s breakfast, even if there may be some small net sum which may benefit the sponsor, where “the stated intent of the event is to honor prominent graduates of the institution and not to raise funds”]; 95-161 [Vol. XIV] [looking to the “stated intent of the organization” as well as the surrounding circumstances in determining “whether the activity is or is not a fundraiser”]).