June 13, 2013
Digest: Under the circumstances presented, a judge may not attend a party to celebrate the retirement of an individual who is currently a litigant in a matter pending in the judge’s court.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A).
A judge says he/she is invited to a joint retirement party for several public officials who all hold the same office. One of them is one of several defendants in a case now before the judge. It is likely that certain other defendants in the same or similar matters will attend the event because they are colleagues of the retiring individuals.1 The judge asks whether he/she may attend.
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and always act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]).
Under these circumstances, the judge’s presence at the retirement party celebrating the defendant’s career in public service (with other defendants present) would raise reasonable concerns about the judge’s impartiality when the judge adjudicates legal claims about the retiree’s and other defendants’ conduct, and would thus create an appearance of impropriety (see generally 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2[A]). The judge, therefore, should not attend.
1 The Committee understands from the inquiry that the matters before the judge involve the propriety of the defendants’ conduct in their official, professional capacities.