Opinion 13-136

October 24, 2013


Digest:                   (1) Judges who attend an educational program sponsored by the Office of Court Administration and hosted by a law school may accept reimbursement from the law school host, if offered, for the actual and reasonable costs of travel, food and lodging associated with attending the program. (2) Judges may attend an education program sponsored by the Office of Court Administration and hosted by a law school that is financed by donations the law school host solicits from law school alumni, law firms, and businesses or business groups.


Rules:                    22 NYCRR 100.1; 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4; 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i); 100.4(D)(5)(a); 100.4(H)(1); 100.4(H)(1)(b); Opinions 12-86; 01-29 (Vol. XIX); 00-98 (Vol. XIX); 96-106 (Vol. XIV).


         An administrative judge asks about the ethical propriety of accepting financial support from a law school that will host an educational program for judges. A group of judges will work with the Office of Court Administration to establish the specific agenda. The host law school will seek financial support for the event from alumni, law firms and businesses or business groups. While both judges and practitioners will attend the program, each group will participate in separate educational sessions.

         All judges must uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary (see 22 NYCRR 100.1) and must avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see NYCRR 100.2). In addition, all judges must act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). Judges are permitted to engage in extra-judicial activities subject to the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (see generally 22 NYCRR 100.4) and may receive reimbursement of expenses associated with those activities if the source of such payments does not give the appearance of influencing the judge’s performance of judicial duties or otherwise give the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[H][1]). Also, a judge may accept an invitation to attend an activity devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[D][5][a]). However, a judge is prohibited from personally participating in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i]).

         In Opinion 01-29 (Vol. XIX), the Committee advised that an administrative judge may ask certain non-profit entities, including a law school, to serve as co-sponsors of a conference about access to justice. The judge expected the co-sponsors to assist in planning the conference and to provide support, such as assigning staff at various stages of the planning process or at the conference itself, and/or sponsoring an event at the conference. The Committee noted that the co-sponsors and the Unified Court System would share the responsibilities for planning and holding the conference, including associated costs. In the Committee’s view, such sharing of costs does not constitute the improper solicitation of funds by judges which is prohibited by the Rules (see id.; 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i]).

         The same is true in the present inquiry where the Unified Court System will collaborate with a law school to host a conference for judges. A program about complex commercial litigation clearly involves the law, the legal system and the administration of justice. Therefore, the Unified Court System may permit the law school host to provide travel, food and lodging for judges in attendance or to reimburse judges for such expenses, and the judges may accept such financial support (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[D][5][a]). However, the reimbursement must be limited to the actual cost of travel, food and lodging reasonably incurred by an individual judge (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[H][1][b]).

         The Committee also previously has advised that a Friends Committee consisting entirely of non-judges may solicit commercial sponsorship of programs to be offered during a judicial convention (see Opinion 00-98 [Vol. XIX]) and that a judge’s association may permit non-judicial co-sponsors of an educational conference to raise funds from foundations, bar associations, law schools, and members of the bar to financially support an educational conference regarding the past, present and future of a particular court (see Opinion 12-86 [Vol. XIX]). In addition, the Committee has advised that judges may attend a judicial education program which is sponsored and conducted by the National Judicial College with grant funds provided by a national trade association (see Opinion 96-106 [Vol. XIV]). The Committee noted that the intended program was under the direction and control of the National Judicial College and not the entity providing the funding (see id.).

         The Committee assumes that neither the inquirer nor any other judges involved in planning the proposed educational program will personally solicit any financial support but that only law school staff and/or others will do so. In addition, there is no indication that anyone who would provide funding will be involved in planning the conference agenda. Therefore, it is not improper for judges to attend the proposed educational program that will be financed by donations the law school host or others solicit from law school alumni, law firms, and businesses or business groups (see Opinion 12-86; 00-98 [Vol. XIX]).