March 9-10, 2011
Digest: A judge whose name was listed as an honoree on invitations to an organization’s fund-raising event, contrary to prior assurances from the organization that the event was not a fund-raiser, should object in writing to the organization and insist that the organization send a retraction. Under the circumstances presented, because the invitations also request significant additional donations beyond the cost of the event to be made specifically in “honor” of the individuals named as honorees, the judge also should not attend the event.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(ii); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(iv); Opinions 07-80; 04-133; 03-92; 02-78.
A judge states that a not-for-profit entity invited him/her to be one of several honorees at an upcoming event. Before accepting the honor, the judge cautioned the organizers of the dinner that he/she “could not [accept] if the event was in any way a fund raising event.” According to the judge, the organizers assured him/her that the cost of admission would simply cover the expenses of the dinner, “and there would be no fund-raising of any kind.” In reliance on this assurance, the judge agreed to be an honoree at the dinner. Several months later, however, the judge received a copy of the invitation which named the judge as an honoree and made clear that the dinner was, in fact, a fund-raising event. Moreover, the enclosed response card invited attendees to make significant additional donations beyond the cost of the event specifically in the name of any honoree, including the judge, to “honor” the named individual. The judge asks the Committee for guidance in reacting to the situation in accordance with the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct.
A judge must avoid impropriety and its appearance in all the judge’s activities (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 is specifically prohibited from lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]). Thus, although a judge may attend fund-raising events held by a not-for-profit educational, religious, charitable, cultural, fraternal or civic organization, a judge may not be a speaker or guest of honor at such events (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][ii]). A judge also may not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for an organization’s fund-raising (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][iv]).
In the Committee’s view, the judge should object, in writing, to the use of his/her name for fund-raising purposes and insist that the organization send a notice to all invitees advising them that the judge is not an honoree (see Opinions 07-80; 04-133; 03-92; 02-78). Under the circumstances presented, where the organization has not only listed the judge as an honoree at the fund-raiser, but has also requested significant additional donations beyond the cost of the event to be made specifically in the honorees’ names, including the judge’s, the Committee believes the judge’s presence at the event would appear to ratify the organization’s conduct. Therefore, the judge also should not attend the event.
Beyond this, the judge need take no further action, as the judge cannot control what the organization chooses to do in response to the judge’s letter, and this Committee has no authority to advise or direct the organization with respect to its actions in this matter (see Opinion 03-92).
For future reference, the Committee recommends that a judge, who receives an organization’s verbal assurances related to compliance with judicial ethics rules, should consider securing such assurances in writing to help avoid any misunderstandings.