March 8, 2012
Digest: A judge may organize a non-fund-raising social golf outing for the local legal community and their friends.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); Opinions 11-125; 11-20; 10-194; 06-170; 95-99 (Vol. XIII); 95-32 (Vol. XIII).
A judge asks whether he/she may organize a social golf outing for members of the legal community and their friends. The judge would email invitations to all local judges and members of the local bar association. The event is not a fund-raiser, and the participation fees will be used solely to cover the actual costs of the outing. Based on the judge’s prior experience organizing the event when he/she was an attorney, the judge anticipates that approximately 20 people might participate.
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 conduct his/her extra-judicial activities so that they do not (1) cast doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge; (2) detract from the dignity of judicial office; or (3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties and are not incompatible with judicial office (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]-).
The Committee has advised that judges may socialize with attorneys (see e.g. Opinion11-125 [citing prior opinions]) and, subject to certain limitations, a judge may attend and participate in a golf outing as the guest of an attorney who practices before the judge (see Opinion 95-99 [Vol. XIII]). The Committee thus sees no impropriety in a judge organizing a purely social golf outing, to which the legal community is invited, where participants are expected to pay their own way (see generally Opinions 11-20; 06-170; 95-99 [Vol. XIII]).
It appears from the inquiry that the judge wishes to set and collect a participation fee that will simply cover the costs of this non-fund-raising, social event. The Committee concludes that this is permissible under the circumstances presented (see Opinion 95-32 [Vol. XIII] [magistrates’ association of which judges and lawyers are members may host panel discussion concerning the law and charge participation fee to cover costs of luncheon and materials, provided that “it is not a fund-raising event”]; cf. Opinion 10-194 [judge who is treasurer of magistrates’ association may notify members that they must pay dues or admission price for association function and may direct that such payments be sent to judge’s attention]).