January 28, 2016
Digest: A part-time judge may not place classified ads indicating his/her availability to officiate marriages.
Rules: General Municipal Law § 805-b; 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(D)(1)(a); 100.4(D)(3); 100.6(B)(4); Opinions 10-25; 08-136; 08-74; 06-41; 92-125.
A town justice asks if he/she may advertise his/her availability to officiate marriages on a website that offers free “classified advertisements” to the public. The website is unrelated to any official website of the town government or the town court. If so, the judge further asks whether he/she may state that he/she will charge a $100 fee and identify him/herself as a town justice.
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 engage in financial and business dealings that may reasonably be perceived as exploiting the judge’s judicial position (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[D][a]) or lend the prestige of judicial office to advance private interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]). Subject to these and other limits, a part-time judge may accept extra-judicial employment “not incompatible with judicial office and does not conflict or interfere with” the judge’s judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.6[B]).
The Committee has advised that a part-time judge may not refer to his/her judicial status in ads for the judge’s private law practice (see Opinions 10-25; 06-41; 92-125). Indeed, a part-time village justice who practices law “may not erect a sign on the facade of the judge’s law office advertising that he/she is a ‘Justice of the Peace,’ authorized to solemnize marriages” (Opinion 06-41). Although a part-time judge, unlike a full-time judge, may serve as an “active participant” in a business entity (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[D]), it would be virtually impossible for a part-time judge to “engage in the ‘business’ of performing marriages” or “solicit requests for such services as a for-profit business would” (Opinion 08-74) without creating, at the very least, an appearance the judge was using his/her judicial status to advance his/her private financial interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[D][a]; 100.2[C]).
Accordingly, a judge may not place classified ads indicating his/her availability to perform marriages. While the Committee need not address the rest of the inquiry, we note issues about the statutory fee for performing marriages raise primarily legal issues (see General Municipal Law § 805-b; Opinions 08-136; 08-74).