March 16, 2016
Digest: A full-time judge may participate as one of several panelists and mentors at a free luncheon for young people of a particular minority group, where the event’s philanthropic purposes are clear, the judge’s participation will not be used for promotional purposes, and the commercial sponsor has assured the judge in writing that no commercial activity whatsoever will take place at the event.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(B); 100.4(D)(3); Opinions 15-57; 13-45; 09-66.
The inquiring full-time judge asks if he/she may be a panelist and mentor at a free luncheon for young people of a specific minority group. The event is sponsored by a commercial entity and the event title includes the sponsor’s name. The judge’s name and likeness will not be used to promote the event, and the judge will be one of several successful adults in various fields to address and mentor the young audience. Although the entity markets its products to young people, it has assured the judge in writing: “[T]his event is strictly a philanthropic effort. There will be no promotional, marketing, or selling of [our] products at this event in any manner. [The event] is solely created to educate, empower, and expose” young people to successful adults in various fields “so they can see that their dreams can truly be their reality.”
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge may speak, write, lecture, and teach (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[B]), but must not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance private interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]). Moreover, a full-time judge may not be an active participant in any form of business enterprise organized for profit (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[D]).
The Committee has advised that judges may participate in otherwise permissible activities that are co-sponsored by bar associations even when they are underwritten by commercial entities (see e.g. Opinions 15-57; 13-45; 09-66).
This inquiry goes considerably further, as it is solely sponsored by the commercial entity whose name is incorporated in the event’s title. Undoubtedly, the sponsor believes it will benefit from hosting the event. Nonetheless, the event’s philanthropic purposes are clear, and the sponsor has assured the judge in writing that no commercial activity whatsoever will take place at the event. That is, the company’s products will not be promoted, marketed or sold at the event, there is no charge for admission, and the judge’s participation will not be used to promote the event or the sponsor. Moreover, the judge is merely one of several successful adults in a variety of fields who will volunteer their time and expertise to serve as inspirational speakers, role models and mentors to those in attendance. Under these circumstances, the Committee concludes the judge’s proposed participation as speaker and mentor to young people at this event does not impermissibly lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the sponsor’s private interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]) or make the judge an “active participant” in the sponsor’s commercial activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[D]). Accordingly, the judge may participate.