Opinion 11-36

March 9-10, 2011


Digest:         A judge who is responsible for organizing an educational program sponsored by the Office of Court Administration may permit an outside lecturer to provide complimentary copies of the lecturer’s book as course materials for the judges who attend the program.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(C); 100.3(A); 100.4(D)(5); 100.4(D)(5)(a); Opinions 09-186; 09-174.


         A judge who is responsible for organizing an educational program for judges sponsored by the Office of Court Administration asks whether he/she may permit one of the lecturers, who is a practicing lawyer, to “give each judge in attendance a copy” of a book the lecturer co-authored. The judge states that the book is worth approximately $75 and addresses the subject of the educational program. The judge notes that he/she would ordinarily make all course materials available electronically on the court’s internal website, but the lecturer’s book is nearly 200 pages. Moreover, the lecturer strongly wishes to provide a copy of the book itself to each judge at the program, both for use as course materials during the presentation “and, of course, to be used as a reference at a later date.”

         A judge must avoid even the appearance of impropriety in all the judge’s activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must maintain professional competence in the law (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[A]). A judge may not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]), and there are significant limitations on a judge’s acceptance of gifts (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[D][5]). A judge may, however, accept books, tapes and other resource materials supplied by publishers on a complimentary basis for official use (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[D][5][a]).

         Under the circumstances presented, the Committee sees no appearance of impropriety in permitting a lecturer to donate his/her course materials to the court system for distribution to the judges who will attend the lecturer’s course. As the lecturer has already been invited to speak, distribution of his/her book at no cost to the court system or the judges in attendance does not appear to advance the lecturer’s private interests in any impermissible way (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]; cf. Opinion 09-174 [a judge may not actively or tacitly promote the products or services of any organization]). In the Committee’s view, the lecturer’s offer to provide copies of his/her own book as course materials is akin to a publisher’s provision of resource materials on a complimentary basis for official use (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[D][5][a]; cf. Opinion 09-186 (analogizing “free room and board awarded to residents of the artist colony” to the more traditional “scholarship or fellowship” specifically permitted under the gift rules). The books may therefore be accepted as course materials and distributed to judges who attend the program.