October 24, 2013
Digest: A judge whose room reservation was dishonored by a hotel and who accepted the hotel’s routine offer to re-book him/her elsewhere at the hotel’s expense, is not ethically obligated to take any further action.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(D)(1)(a); 100.4(D)(5).
A judge who had made a hotel reservation while traveling on official judicial business states that when he/she attempted to check into the hotel, the front desk advised that it could not honor the reservation due to an inadvertent over booking error. The hotel explained that, pursuant to its standard operating procedure in such cases, it would arrange for alternative accommodations nearby and bear the cost of such arrangements. The judge states that, as a result of the hotel’s policy and procedures, the hotel, rather than the Office of Court Administration, paid for the judge’s accommodations that evening.1 The judge asks whether he/she has “any ethical obligation” under the circumstances presented.
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). Among other restrictions, a judge must not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]) and may not accept a “gift, bequest, favor or loan” except as permitted by the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (Rules) (22 NYCRR 100.4[D]).
Although judges must not improperly invoke their judicial title or status in a business transaction (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]; 100.4[D][a]), it appears from the facts set forth in the inquiry that the inquiring judge neither sought nor received any special treatment due to his/her judicial status. Rather, the hotel followed its standard operating procedure by re-booking a guest elsewhere, at the hotel’s expense, when the hotel was unable to honor the guest’s reservation. A judge in his/her capacity as a consumer need not forfeit the ordinary courtesies routinely offered by businesses, as a matter of corporate policy, to similarly inconvenienced consumers.
Accordingly, the hotel’s routine accommodation of the judge as a disappointed reservation holder, without more, does not appear to be a “gift” or “favor” to the judge within the meaning of the Rules (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[D]), and the judge is not ethically obligated to take any further action under the facts described.
1 The judge indicates that the Office of Court Administration would have paid the state rate (less than $150) for the judge’s hotel room.