April 26, 2012
Digest: (1) A judges’ association may make a charitable donation to a private school’s athletic program; (2) members of the association may thereafter attend a sporting event at the school, which is being held to raise funds for medical research, and accept public recognition for their contribution to the school’s athletic program both as an association and as individual judges, provided that such recognition is unadvertised and ancillary to the event; and (3) the association’s logo may be displayed at the school’s playing fields, where, under the circumstances presented, it appears that the display is meant to recognize the association’s support of the school’s athletic program, rather than for fund-raising purposes.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i), (ii), (iv); Opinions 07-05; 06-114; 06-50; 03-103; 99-59 (Vol. XVIII); 97-97 (Vol. XVI); 96-46 (Vol. XIV); 94-28 (Vol. XII); 93-78 (Vol. XI); 90-168 (Vol. VI); 88-27 (Vol. I).
The inquiring judge, who is an officer of a judges’ association, states that a member judge’s child is diagnosed with a serious disease. As the child is a member of a sports team at his/her private school, the association members wish to honor the child by making a donation to the school’s athletic program.1 In recognition of the anticipated donation, school administrators have invited the association and its members to attend the school’s upcoming fund-raiser, a sporting event being held to raise money to seek a cure for the child’s disease. During the game, school administrators want to display the association’s logo on a wall of the playing field and recognize the association and any member judges in attendance. The judge asks whether the proposed activities are ethically permissible.
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 may not personally solicit funds (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][i]) or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]; 100.4[C][b][iv]). A judge may not be the speaker or guest of honor at a fund-raising event for a not-for-profit educational or religious organization, but may accept an award at such an event, provided that the award is unadvertised and ancillary to the event (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][ii]).
With respect to making a charitable donation, the Committee has previously advised that a judges’ association is held to the same standards as an individual judge (see Opinions 06-50; 97-97 [Vol. XVI]; 93-78 [Vol. XI]). Although judges may not personally solicit funds (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][i]), they may make charitable contributions to any permissible charity or not-for-profit organization (see Opinions 06-114; 06-50). For example, a judge may contribute to a parochial school at its annual dinner and permit his/her name to be included on a “page of honor” together with other contributors on a calendar distributed at the dinner (see Opinion 88-27 [Vol. I]); may make a charitable contribution to an affiliate of Catholic Charities that operates a revolving cash bail fund on behalf of defendants (see Opinion 99-59 [Vol. XVIII]); and may contribute to a fund created on behalf of a Legal Aid Society attorney who was seriously injured in an accident, even though that attorney has appeared before the judge (see Opinion 03-103). The Committee has further advised that a judges’ association may sponsor youth athletic teams (see Opinion 94-28 [Vol. XII] [noting that sponsorship will result in “members of the teams wearing clothing identifying the association”]); and may otherwise make non-political contributions to a not-for-profit organization (see Opinion 06-50).
Here, too, the Committee concludes that a judges’ association may make a charitable donation to a private school’s athletic program in honor of a judge’s sick child, who is a member of one of the school’s sports teams (see Opinions 06-50; 94-28 [Vol. XII]).
Although a judge may not be the guest of honor at fund-raising events for not-for-profit educational organizations, other than law schools, a judge may attend and accept an award at such an event, provided that the award is unadvertised and ancillary to the event (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][ii]). Under the particular circumstances presented, the Committee concludes that the type of public recognition contemplated here is analogous to conferring an award on the association and its members. Thus, although the association and its members may not be the guests of honor at the school’s fund-raiser, they may attend the event as spectators and be recognized for their charitable contribution to the school’s athletic program, provided that such recognition is not advertised prior to the event.
Finally, in the Committee’s view, it would be impermissible to permit school administrators to display the association’s logo for the purpose of raising funds, as this would constitute the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][iv]; cf. 22 NYCRR 100.2[C] [judges must not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of themselves or others]). However, under the circumstances presented, it appears that the school wishes to display the association’s logo on its playing field in recognition of the association’s financial contribution to the school’s athletic program, which is permissible, and not to generate additional donations, which is not permissible (see Opinions 90-168 [Vol. VI] [a judge may include his/her name and title on a list of patrons who have contributed to a charitable organization]; 88-27 [Vol. I] [a judge who has made a donation to a parochial school may permit his/her name to be included along with those of other contributors on a “page of honor” within the school’s appointment calendar]).2
1 The inquiring judge states that the funds to be donated were contributed voluntarily by members of the judges’ association without any improper solicitation.
2 The Committee assumes that the association’s logo will not be displayed permanently at the school, unless other similarly situated donors are honored the same way (cf. 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]; Opinion 07-05; 96-46 [Vol. XIV]).