October 23, 2014
Digest: Whether a judge may use his/her official court mailing address, telephone number and e-mail address to conduct bar association business is primarily a question of administrative policy.
Rules: Judiciary Law §212(2)(l); 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.3(A); 100.3(B)(7); 100.4(A); Opinions 12-31; 10-177; 10-68; 08-208; 07-126; 07-77; 00-07 (Vol. XVIII).
The inquiring judge is an active member and/or officer of certain judicial associations and bar associations, who also frequently chairs specific programs such as continuing legal education programs and “Judiciary Nights” for bar associations. The judge asks whether it is permissible to use his/her court mailing address, telephone number and e-mail address to conduct bar association business, with the permission of his/her local administrative judge. The inquiring judge specifically envisions “handling matters associated with specific programs, outreach to membership, correspondence, telephone conferences and assisting in responses from judges and attorneys to specific programs,” and would also use his/her official court contact information “in correspondence and for RSVP’s to specific programs.”
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 judge’s judicial duties take precedence over all the judge’s other activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[A]), a judge may nonetheless engage in extrajudicial activities, subject to certain limitations (see generally 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]). Indeed, the Committee has generally recognized that a judge’s participation as a member or officer in bar associations and other such legal organizations “is to be encouraged” (Opinions 10-68; 07-126).
In some instances, a judge’s use of the court’s address or an official court system email address has clear ethical implications (see e.g. Opinions 10-177 [judge may not direct defendants to send mail for the prosecutor to the court or receive mail addressed to a prosecutor at the court address]; 07-77 [judge who provides a letter of welcome to jurors reporting for jury duty should use official court email address, rather than personal email address]; cf. Opinion 00-07 [Vol. XVIII] [judge should not use court time, resources, stationery or staff to bring a defamation action against a newspaper]). Here, by contrast, the judge wishes to use court resources for various bar association related activities, which the Committee presumes will broadly relate to improvement of the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice (cf. Opinions 10-68; 07-126). It is the Committee's view that the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct do not preclude a judge from using his/her official court mailing address, telephone number and e-mail address to conduct bar association business, assuming the judge’s judicial duties continue to take precedence over his/her other activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[A]) and the judge continues to dispose of all judicial matters promptly, efficiently and fairly (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[B]).
However, the Committee cannot opine on any administrative restrictions, policies or guidelines governing the inquiring judge’s proposed use of the court’s mailing address, telephone, and e-mail, which are, of course, the province of the appropriate administrative authorities (see Judiciary Law §212[l]; Opinions 12-31; 08-208; 08-177).