October 24, 2013
Digest: A judge may attend a non-political retirement celebration for an elected official, even if there is a charge for admission.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(D)(5); Opinions 12-187; 12-124; 12-21; 06-172; 06-44; 97-06 (Vol. XV); 90-154 (Vol. VI).
A judge asks if he/she may purchase tickets to, and attend, retirement celebrations for two elected public officials who have served the same jurisdiction in which the judge presides. The first is a combined birthday and retirement celebration for “a long time personal friend” who is not an attorney. The second is a retirement celebration for a local prosecutor, organized by the prosecutor’s friends and staff members. The inquiring judge notes that the events are not sponsored by any political organization and do not appear to be political in nature, and in each instance, the amounts paid “are being deposited into an account which has been specifically created for this event.” Each ticket is less than $75 per person and appears to cover the cost of the event plus an additional amount for a gift for the retiring official.
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]). Although the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct explicitly restrict a judge’s acceptance of a gift, bequest, favor or loan (see generally 22 NYCRR 100.4[D]), they do not impose equivalent restrictions on gifts a judge may make (see Opinion 12-21).
As the Committee stated in Opinion 12-124:
There is, of course, no rule prohibiting a judge from attending a non-political dinner or affair honoring a retiring public official (see Opinions 97-06 [Vol. XV]; 90-154 [Vol. VI]).
The question presented here is whether the admission charge renders the judge’s presence at these non-political retirement celebrations impermissible. The Committee concludes that it does not. Indeed, absent any additional factors that would create an appearance of impropriety, a judge may pay his/her own way to a social event (e.g., Opinions 12-187 [judge may pay for ticket to law-related event]; 06-172 [court attorney-referee may pay for his/her meal at a holiday dinner party]), and may give gifts to others (e.g., Opinions 12-21 [judge may offer his/her law library to members of a local bar association on a “first come, first serve basis”]; 06-44 [judge may attend the wedding of an attorney who regularly appears before the judge and give the couple a wedding gift]).
Accordingly, the Committee concludes that a judge may attend a non-political retirement celebration for an elected official, even if there is a charge for admission.