June 13, 1988
Topic: Participation in fund-raising activities.
Digest: A surrogate should not actively seek grants from New York foundations for the benefit of the National College of Probate Judges.
Rules: 100.4(c) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator of the Courts [22 NYCRR 100.4 (c)]; Canon 4(C) of the Code of Judicial Conduct
A surrogate is a member of the Executive Committee of the National College of Probate Judges. This organization is devoted to education and improvement of Probate Law. Biannually the organization holds an educational conference for its members. The organization also publishes a Probate Law Journal in cooperation with Boston University Law School. The organization has established an endowment fund which provides scholarships for members who attend the educational conferences. Can the judge actively seek grants from New York foundations to support the organization's endowment fund?
Rule 100.4(c) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator provides:
A judge may serve as a member, officer or director of an organization or governmental agency devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice. He or she may assist such an organization in raising funds and may participate in their management and investment, but shall not personally participate in public fund-raising activities. He or she may make recommendations to public and private fund-granting agencies on projects and programs concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.
Canon 4C of the Code of Judicial Conduct is to the same effect .
We assume that in asking whether the judge “may actively seek grants,” the judge is referring to a direct one-on-one solicitation by telephone or direct letter. We think the proposed conduct should not be engaged in.
Such contacts as New York foundations may have with courts are very largely with Probate Courts and in New York, of course, the Surrogate’s Court. In these circumstances, we think there is an appearance of impropriety and perhaps even an appearance of coercion if a judge of the Surrogate’s Court directly requests a New York foundation to make a contribution to an organization of probate judges.
Accordingly, we think the judge should not undertake such activity.
This opinion is advisory only and is not binding upon the Commission on Judicial Conduct or the Office of Court Administration.