December 12, 2013
Digest: A judge who has retained a firm to promote and lobby for a proposed law relating to the courts and the judiciary may briefly attend a reception during the firm’s holiday party.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(D)(5); 100.4(D)(5)(c); 100.4(D)(5)(h); Opinions 12-185; 09-186; 06-172; 87-15(a)(b) (Vol. I).
The inquiring judge states that he/she has, along with certain other judges, retained a consulting and lobbying firm “to help publicize, educate the public about and gain endorsements for” a proposed law which relates to the courts and the judiciary. The judge has received an invitation to the firm’s holiday party, which involves a cocktail party followed by a live musical performance. The judge asks whether he/she may “stop by briefly for the reception.”
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 a judge is limited in his/her ability to accept a gift, bequest, favor, or loan (see generally 22 NYCRR 100.4[D]), a judge may accept “ordinary social hospitality” (22 NYCRR 100.4[D][c]). A catch-all provision also permits a judge to accept a gift, subject to a reporting requirement, if “the donor is not a party or other person who has come or is likely to come or whose interests have come or are likely to come before the judge” (22 NYCRR 100.4[D][h]).
It is clear that the judge may attend a holiday party if it qualifies as ordinary social hospitality (see Opinions 12-185; 06-172 [emphasizing that the hospitality must be “ordinary,” rather than “unusually expensive or lavish”]). The Committee has advised that “ordinary social hospitality” does not include “a party that provides guests with a complete dinner at an expensive restaurant, a cruise, or like affair that is more expensive or lavish than an ordinary party” (Opinion 87-15[a][b] [Vol. I]). If the judge concludes that the “reception” qualifies as “ordinary social hospitality” under these standards, the judge may attend, and there is no reporting requirement (compare 22 NYCRR 100.4[D][c] with 22 NYCRR 100.4[D][h]; see also Opinion 09-186 n. 1).