June 11, 2015
Digest: A judge may not join in an advertising campaign intended to lobby political support and funding for union contract renewals for his/her alma mater.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(B); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i), (iii)-(iv); Opinions 14-93; 03-04; 02-21; 88-79.
A full-time judge’s alma mater asked the judge to join an advertising campaign for its administration and its faculty and staff union. The scripted campaign will feature its successful alumni to showcase their careers and “lobby support for renewal contracts.” The ad’s 60 second script would have three speakers: the judge to describe his/her career and the impact certain professors and the institution had on his/her life; the next two speakers would request funds. The judge asks if he/she may participate.
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 not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]). Although a judge may participate in certain extra-judicial activities, these activities are subject to the limitations included in the Rules (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[B]). For example, a judge may make recommendations to fund-granting organizations on projects or programs concerning the law, the legal system or the administration of justice (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][iii]), but may not personally solicit funds or otherwise lend the prestige of judicial office to fund-raising efforts (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][i], [iv]).
The Committee has advised that a judge’s participation in his/her alma mater’s advertising campaign for recruitment purposes “is not an improper extra-judicial activity, nor does it violate the prohibition on the use of the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others” (Opinion 02-21). The Committee, however, cautioned the judge to oversee the use of his/her name, photograph, status and biography to ensure the judge will not inadvertently participate in any impermissible activities, such as fund-raising (see id.; see also Opinions 14-93 [a judge may participate in a video recording where he/she discusses memories of the alma mater provided the video is used for general promotion of the alma mater and/or recruitment of students, rather than for fund-raising]).
In Opinion 03-04, the Committee advised that a judge should not intervene between a county and its correction officers to help resolve a labor-management impasse. Although the Committee recognized that, on certain occasions, a judge may intervene in matters “directly related to the administration of justice,” intervening in a contract negotiation impasse, where there has yet to be any impact on the county jail’s operation or the administration of justice, could be viewed as “lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others” (id.).
Here, the judge was asked to join an advertising campaign to lobby political support and funding for contract renewals on behalf of his/her alma mater’s administration and union. The advertising campaign is not a recruitment tool for the alma mater (cf. Opinions 14-93; 02-21; 88-79) and does not directly involve issues relating to the law, the legal system or the administration of justice. Thus, the judge’s participation in this advertising campaign could only be viewed as lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others in contract negotiations and/or in seeking funding. Therefore, the inquiring judge may not participate in the advertising campaign to lobby support for union contract renewals.