December 11, 2014
Digest: A judge fluent in a foreign language may serve as an uncompensated interpreter for a friend during a business meeting where the judge will not be identified as a judge and will not provide legal advice.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); Opinion 13-147.
A full-time judge who is fluent in a foreign language asks whether he/she may serve as an uncompensated interpreter for two friends when they meet with their respective attorneys regarding two unrelated business ventures. Both foreign citizens, one friend is forming a professional partnership and the other is negotiating a commercial lease. Although each friend’s attorney has an interpreter, the friends have had some difficulty in the past following and understanding the attorneys’ interpreters, and each has asked the judge if he/she would assist with translating if the friend has difficulty understanding the translation by the attorney’s interpreter. The judge will not provide legal advice, nor will he/she be identified to the others as a judge, and the meetings will take place during the judge’s personal time. The inquiring judge indicates that the friends’ attorneys never appear in the judge’s court.
A judge must always avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2), must always act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]), and may not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others (see 22 NYCRR100.2[C]). However, a judge is permitted to engage in extra-judicial activities that are not incompatible with judicial office and do not (1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge, (2) detract from the dignity of judicial office, or (3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]-).
Under the circumstances presented, the inquiring judge may serve as an uncompensated interpreter for his/her friends. The proposed activity, after work hours in a non-public setting and not involving any attorney who might appear before the judge, is not incompatible with judicial office and does not otherwise violate 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]. Nor does the proposed activity use the prestige of judicial office to advance a friend’s private interest (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]), as the inquirer will not be identified as a judge and his/her contemplated participation is limited to bridging a language barrier in a personal attorney-client conversation. Under these circumstances, the Committee does not regard the judge’s involvement as an attempt to impermissibly use his/her judicial status. Rather, the judge is simply lending his/her foreign language skills on a friend’s behalf (cf. Opinion 13-147 [judge may serve as an uncompensated proctor for a friend taking an engineering certification exam on an individual basis where the certifying organization included “governmental official” as among those categories of persons acceptable as proctor]).