September 19, 1988
Topic: Judge assisting in obtaining governmental and foundation funds for non-profit and governmental agencies.
Digest: A Family Court Judge may write a letter directly to a governmental agency or foundation in support of a non-profit or governmental agency’s program which provides services on a regular basis to that court in its administration of justice, but may not write such letters on behalf of programs which do not regularly relate to the Court’s judicial operations.
Rules: 22NYCRR § 100.4 ( c); 100.5 (b)(2)
A Family Court Judge inquires whether he may honor requests from non-profit and governmental agencies who work with the courts, such as battered spouse shelters, counseling services and the Department of Social Services, to write letters in support of the agency’s program in connection with that agency’s application for government and foundation funding. He states that some of these programs would directly increase the services available to the Family Court, while other programs, such as day care and employment services, are not directly related to the Family Court.
Section 100.5 (b)(2) of the Chief Administrator’s Rules expressly states that:
No judge shall solicit funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civil organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of the office for that purpose. . . .
This broad proscription against use of the judge’s office for solicitation of funds for charitable or civic organizations generally prohibits judicial letters on behalf of a particular group in support of a request for funding. The only exception to this prohibition is set forth in section 100.4 of the Rules covering “Activities to Improve the Law, the Legal System, and the Administration of Justice”. Section 100.4 ( c) specifically provides that a judge “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”.
Since the inquiring judge indicates that some of the agencies’ fundraising requests are for services provided directly to the court, such programs concern the “administration of justice” and the judge is permitted to make recommendations to the funding agency with respect to such services. In evaluating particular fundraising requests, however, the judge should consider whether , in fact, the particular program involved is one that directly and on a regular basis provides services to the court, or whether the program only tangentially or indirectly is involved with the court’s operations. In the latter situation, no matter how worthy, the program could not be realistically be said to concern the administration of justice and the judge should not lend his name in support of the program.
Even with respect to the permissible projects, the judge, before undertaking to write a supporting letter for funding, should also consider whether the project or program is one which may involve some potential conflict of interest, or raise doubts about the judge’s capacity to decide impartially issues concerning the program. If any such considerations exist, the judge should decline to write the requested letter.
The judge should mail the letter of recommendation directly to governmental agency or foundation. The judge should ensure that the letter is used only for the purpose for which it is written and not for any public fundraising or promotional drives. See Opinion 88-23 of the Advisory Committee (March 14,1988).
This opinion is advisory only and does not bind either the Office of Court Administration or the Commission on Judicial Conduct.