August 23, 2012
This responds to your inquiry (12-87) asking whether you may continue as chairperson of a committee of a not-for-profit organization which is dedicated to providing safe drinking water. The committee is charged with taking positions on legislative and regulatory bills, rules, and actions that affect public water supplies. As chairperson, you would contact and meet with government officials and their staff in addition to sending letters requesting support, opposition, or no action on specific issues.
Pursuant to the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, a judge may be a member “of an educational, religious, charitable, cultural, fraternal or civic organization not conducted for profit” (22 NYCRR 100.4[C]) subject to certain restrictions and limitations. These restrictions and limitations include those activities that “cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge” or “interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties and are ... incompatible with judicial office” (22 NYCRR 100.4[A], ). Since you would be taking an advocacy position on a subject matter that is potentially controversial, serving as chair of the committee is incompatible with judicial office and, therefore, ethically prohibited.
Enclosed, for your convenience, are Opinions 99-74 and 98-101, which address this issue.
Very truly yours,
George D. Marlow, Assoc. Justice Appellate Division, First Dep’t (Ret.) Committee Chair