April 24, 2014
Digest: A judge, quasi-judicial official, or candidate for election to judicial office may not attend a not-for-profit organization’s fund-raising event, where the theme of the event, as promoted by the organization, is an exhortation for attendees to “repeal or disregard” a particular statute.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.0(R); 100.0(S); 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.3(B)(1); 100.5(A)(4)(a); 100.6(A); Joint Opinion 13-189/14-02.
A quasi-judicial official who is within his/her window period for election to judicial office asks whether he/she may attend a not-for-profit organization’s fund-raising dinner, which is being promoted with a theme exhorting attendees to “repeal or disregard” a particular statute. The inquirer notes that, although he/she does not currently hear matters relating to this statute, he/she would hear such matters as a judge if elected. The inquirer asks if he/she may attend this or similar events in his/her current capacity as a quasi-judicial official or a judicial candidate, or in his/her anticipated future capacity as a sitting judge.
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]). A judge must “respect and comply” with the law (id.) and “be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence in it” (22 NYCRR 100.3[B]). These principles also apply to quasi-judicial officials, who must comply with the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct “in the performance of their judicial functions and otherwise must so far as practical and appropriate use such rules as guides to their conduct” (22 NYCRR 100.6[A]). Similarly, a judge or non-judge who is seeking election to judicial office must maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office and act in a manner consistent with the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][a]). Impartiality requires, among other things, “maintaining an open mind in considering issues that may come before the judge” (22 NYCRR 100.0[R]), and an “‘independent’ judiciary” is defined as “one free of outside influences or control” (22 NYCRR 100.0[S]).
Although quasi-judicial officials, sitting judges, and candidates for election to judicial office may ordinarily attend a wide variety of fund-raising events for not-for-profit organizations, they must not act in a manner that casts reasonable doubt on their willingness to respect and comply with the law and otherwise perform judicial functions in an appropriate manner consistent with their legal and ethical obligations.
Under the facts presented, it appears that the not-for-profit organization in question has chosen to promote this particular fund-raising event with an exhortation for attendees to “repeal or disregard” a particular statute; indeed, it is the theme of the event. Although judges may seek repeal or amendment of a law, subject to certain limitations (see e.g. Joint Opinion 13-189/14-02), they may not simply disregard the law. In the Committee’s view, the theme of simply “repealing or disregarding” a particular law is profoundly disrespectful of the rule of law, and reflects an attitude which is wholly incompatible with the judicial function.
Therefore, the inquiring quasi-judicial official should not attend this event as long as he/she is subject to the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct in any capacity (see 22 NYCRR 100.0[R], [S]; 100.2[A]; 100.3[B]; 100.5[A][a]; 100.6[A]).