September 13, 2012
Digest: Under the facts presented, a judge may accept free admission to a modestly priced community event from the sponsoring local not-for-profit organization, provided the donor and its interests have not come, and are not likely to come before the judge.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(D)(5)(h); Opinions 10-119; 90-164 (Vol. VI); 90-25 (Vol. V).
A judge who presides in a particular county asks whether he/she may accept two free passes for admission to a county fair from the sponsoring local not-for-profit organization. The judge states that other local government officials have also received complimentary passes and that the face value of the two passes combined is less than $150.
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]). The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct permit a judge to accept a gift, bequest, favor or loan, if “the donor is not a party or other person who has come or is likely to come or whose interests have come or are likely to come before the judge” (22 NYCRR 100.4[D][h]), subject to a reporting obligation if the value of the gift exceeds $150 (see id.).
The Committee has previously noted that “the community benefits from having judges take an active part in community affairs whenever possible” (see e.g. Opinion 10-119, quoting Opinion 90-25 ([Vol. V]). Of course, in some circumstances, acceptance of complimentary admission to a local not-for-profit organization’s community event may create an appearance of impropriety. For example, the Committee has advised that a judge may not accept a complimentary ticket to a local civic organization’s dinner after the judge “presided over hearings which resulted in [the] organization obtaining a lease in a historic city owned building,” even though the organization was not a party in the proceedings before the judge (see Opinion 90-164 [Vol. VI]).
The present inquiry, however, reveals no such connections between the organization’s interests and the judge’s judicial duties. To the contrary, the inquiring judge advises that the organization has offered complimentary admission to county officials in the non-judicial branches of government as well.
Under the facts presented, the Committee concludes that there is no appearance of impropriety if the judge’s accepts free admission to this modestly priced community event from a local not-for-profit organization, provided the donor and its interests have not come, and are not likely to come before the judge (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[D][h]; Opinion 90-164 [Vol. VI]). Accordingly, the judge may accept the gift and attend the event.