Opinion 14-153

October 23, 2014


Digest:         A judge may not permit a bar association to place collection bins for a charitable clothing drive within a courtroom. If the court is located inside a multi-use building, the judge may permit the bar association to place such bins in the building’s common area.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i), (iv); Opinions 14-127; 14-68; 06-117; 03-137; 98-35; 95-76; 94-58; 89-128.


         A judge asks if he/she may allow a bar association to “place collection containers within the courtroom to collect hats, gloves and scarves for distribution to the local armed forces veterans.”

         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]). Among other restrictions, a judge may not personally participate in soliciting funds or in other fund-raising activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i]) and may not use or permit the use of a judicial office’s prestige for fund-raising (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][iv]) nor lend the prestige of judicial office to advance private interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]).

         The Committee has advised that the ban on personally soliciting funds and fund-raising activities also “includes soliciting non-cash or in-kind donations” (Opinion 14-127). Further, “[a]ny involvement that would be seen by the public as fund-raising by the court system itself is also prohibited,” and thus “the rules [barring] fund-raising apply not only to judges, but also to courts and court entities, and to fund-raising on court property” (Opinion 06-117).

         For example, the Committee has advised that a court may not participate in a not-for-profit organization’s charitable fund-raising event, where participating employers “allow their workers to work in casual clothes in exchange for a $5 donation to United Cerebral Palsy,” and participating workers “receive a button which would indicate that their casual clothing was a result of their contribution” (Opinion 95-76). Nor may a judge establish a public clothing solicitation drive for the poor either in the name of the court (Opinion 94-58) or in connection with a non-profit organization’s efforts to help public housing residents develop business skills (Opinion 98-35). Similarly, the Committee has advised that a judge may not act as coordinator in a campaign for the Boy Scouts to collect canned food for the homeless (Opinion 89-128), “adopt” a military unit in the name of the court for charitable purposes (Opinion 03-137), or conduct a book drive or solicit publishers or book sellers to donate books to use as a sentencing tool (Opinion 14-127). The Committee has noted such activities, though laudable, would impermissibly lend the court’s prestige to a particular charitable endeavor in violation of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (see Opinions 03-137; 94-58).

         For similar reasons, the Committee believes that allowing charitable collection containers within the courtroom to collect winter clothing is likewise impermissible, even where the drive would be established in the name and at the request of, a local bar association. The public will readily perceive that an outside organization cannot place collection bins in the courtroom without the permission of the judge and/or court administrators. Thus, there is no practicable way to avoid the perception that the court is lending its prestige to a particular charitable endeavor (see generally Opinions 14-127; 06-116; 03-137; 95-76; 94-58; 89-128).1

         However, if the court is in a multi-purpose building also housing non-judicial entities, the judge need not object to the association placing such bins in a building’s common area, where the clothing drive is “sufficiently separate from the court” that it is unlikely to create an improper appearance(Opinion 14-68).2


         1 Indeed, because attorneys, litigants, and witnesses do not ordinarily bring extra clothing with them to a court proceeding, a bar association’s clothing drive could not be successful inside a courtroom unless court users are specifically requested or instructed in advance to bring such items with them, in order to make the requested in-kind donation in the presence of court personnel or the judge.

         2 The Committee assumes that neither the judge nor court officials will have the power to “authorize” placement of the collection bins in such common areas without reference to the views of the other entities within the multi-use building.