November 6, 2013
This responds to your inquiry (13-76) asking whether you may include your status as a town justice in your law firm’s advertisements or in the biography you provide when you speak to, or participate in bar association meetings or other groups not related to the practice of law.
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]). Also, a judge may not use the prestige of judicial office to advance his/her own private interests or the private interests of another (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]).
A part-time judge who practices law is prohibited from using his/her judicial title in advertisements for the judge’s private law practice as to do so lends the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the law firm (see Opinion 10-25). However, subject to certain restrictions, a part-time judge who practices law may permit his/her law firm to include the judge’s judicial title in a firm biography that is published on the internet (see Joint Opinion 09-59/09-86). The Committee advised that,
merely listing a part-time judge’s judicial title in his/her online biography on the law firm’s website is permissible, as long as the judge is careful to avoid the appearance that the judge’s judicial position is being used to promote either the law firm or the judge’s own legal services. A judge should not describe his/her judicial duties or significant cases over which he/she has presided. Rather, a judge should use a simple, direct statement similar to what would appear in a resume or in Martindale-Hubbell (see Opinions 05-18; 99-105[Vol. XVIII]). In addition, the information about a lawyer/judge that appears on a law firm’s website must not imply that a judge is pre-disposed to decide a certain class of cases in a particular way (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]; 100.3[B]) and must not otherwise detract from the dignity of judicial office (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]). Finally, the lawyer/judge must ensure that the information about him/her that is posted on a law firm’s website also complies with the applicable provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct (see e.g. 22 NYCRR 1200.50 - 1200.54 [Rules 7.1-7.5]).
A judge is not prohibited from using his/her judicial title when engaging in extra-judicial activities as long as the judge does not exploit his/her judicial position in the process (see Opinions 12-135 [judicial title may appear in information booklet about religious outreach trip]; 11-04 [judge may identify him/herself as such during book signing]; 00-31[judge’s name and title may be included in video]; 93-123 [Vol. XI] [judge’s title may be included in course announcement)]. Therefore, although you may not include your judicial status in your law firm advertisements, you may include your judicial status in (1) your law firm biography that is published on the internet, and (2) the biography you provide when you speak to, or participate in bar association meetings or other groups not related to the practice of law, as long as you do not exploit your judicial status in the process.
I have enclosed a copy of Opinions 12-135, 11-04, 10-25, 00-31 and 93-123 [Vol. XI], and Joint Opinion 09-59/09-86 for your convenience.
Very truly yours,
George D. Marlow, Assoc. Justice
Appellate Division, First Dept. (Ret.)