June 11, 2015
Digest: A judge may attend a foreign consulate’s reception for its ambassador and may speak at the consulate about the judge’s personal experiences in becoming a jurist, subject to generally applicable limitations on judicial speech and conduct.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.3(B)(6),(8); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(B); 100.4(D)(5); 100.4(D)(5)(c); Opinions 15-125; 15-93; 87-15(a)(b).
A judge whose family emigrated from another country asks whether he/she may accept two invitations from that country’s Consul General: one to attend an ambassador’s reception in the judge’s judicial capacity, and another to speak at the consulate “about my experience of becoming the first” judge of a particular gender and ethnicity in the history of the local judicial district(s).
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]). Generally, a judge may engage in extra-judicial activities 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]-).
Although a judge may not accept all gifts (see generally 22 NYCRR 100.4[D]), a judge may accept “ordinary social hospitality” (22 NYCRR 100.4[D][c]). The Committee has stated that “ordinary social hospitality” does not include “a party that provides guests with a complete dinner at an expensive restaurant, a cruise, or like affair that is more expensive or lavish than an ordinary party” (Opinion 87-15[a][b]). On these facts, the Consul’s invitation to the judge as a local public official qualifies as ordinary social hospitality, and he/she may accept the invitation and attend the customary reception for a visiting ambassador.
A judge may speak or lecture subject to applicable provisions of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[B]). Speaking at a foreign consulate about the judge’s personal experience in becoming a jurist is clearly compatible with judicial office, and unlikely to cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s impartiality, detract from the dignity of judicial office, or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]-). Accordingly, the judge may accept an invitation to speak on this topic at the consulate. The judge’s participation is, of course, subject to all applicable limitations on judicial speech and conduct, including the public comment rule, the prohibition on impermissible ex parte communications, and the need to avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]; 100.3[B], ; Opinions 15-125; 15-93).