March 19, 2015
Digest: A judge and his/her family may, at a not-for-profit religious organization’s request, share their experience with its summer camp with other families who are considering sending their children to the camp. The judge’s family may thereafter accept the camp’s offer of a discount or a t-shirt or sweatshirt.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(D)(5); 100.4(D)(5)(b); Opinions 14-85; 12-169.
A part-time judge whose children have attended a not-for-profit religious organization’s summer camp for many years asks if he/she may, at the organization’s request, meet with families who are considering sending their children to the camp, “to share our family’s experience at the camp.” If a new family sends children to the camp after meeting with the judge’s family, the organization has offered to provide the judge’s family either with a discount for the judge’s children to attend the camp or with a token gift of a t-shirt or sweatshirt for the judge’s children.
A judge must always avoid even 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 must not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]).
The Committee has previously recognized that the special nature of the parent-child bond must be accounted for when addressing judicial ethics (see Opinion 12-169 [discussing prior opinions]). Typically, when parents send their children away to a summer camp, the whole family participates in the experience in different ways. Thus, for example, parents may offer perspectives on planning and logistics, and about the effect on their children, such as developments in habits, skills, or character; while the children may offer perspectives about the range of activities available and what they enjoyed most as direct participants. Because the judge and his/her family will be sharing their own collective experience with the camp, the judge will clearly and unambiguously be acting in his/her role as a parent (cf. Opinion 12-169). Moreover, the Committee notes that the judge and his/her family will not be seeking possible new campers, but will only speak with families referred by the camp, i.e., those who are already considering sending their children to the camp, somewhat akin to a traditional reference (cf. Opinion 14-85 [a judge may not provide a testimonial for his/her former campaign manager to use in advertisements but may permit the former campaign manager to provide the judge’s name as a reference to prospective clients, subject to certain limitations]). Accordingly, provided the judge does not volunteer information about his/her judicial status, the Committee sees no possible appearance the judge is lending the judicial office’s prestige to advance the camp’s private interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]).
Finally, although a judge may not accept all gifts (see generally 22 NYCRR 100.4[D]), a judge may accept a gift, award or benefit incident to the business, profession, or other separate activity of a spouse or other family member residing in the judge’s household, provided such gift, award or benefit “could not reasonably be perceived as intended to influence the judge in the performance of judicial duties” (22 NYCRR 100.4[D][b]). On these facts, the Committee believes the judge’s family may also accept the camp’s offer of a discount or a t-shirt or sweatshirt.