May 25, 1989
Topic: May a judge, instead of accepting a remuneration or gift for solemnizing a marriage, suggest a contribution be made to a charity of the couple’s choice or to the judges’ own church or synagogue? Would the response, if negative, differ if the contribution were made without the judge’s knowledge and without the charity being made aware of the reason for such contribution?
Digest: A judge, instead of accepting a remuneration or gift for having solemnized a wedding, may suggest a contribution to be made to a charity of the couple's choice, but not in the judge's honor, but may not suggest or designate any specific charity as recipient.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.5(b)(2); Opinion 88-168
A judge asks whether, upon declining an unsolicited offer of a gift for solemnizing a wedding, a judge may suggest that a contribution be made to a charity of the couple's choice or to the judge's own church or synagogue. In the alternative, the judge asks if the answer to the above question would differ if the contribution were made without the judge's knowledge or without the charity being made aware of the reason for the contribution.
A judge, who is offered and declines to accept a gift from a couple whose wedding the judge has solemnized, may suggest that the couple transmit the gift to a charity of their own choice, provided that it not be made in the judge's name or honor, but the judge may not suggest or specify any particular charity as the recipient. By specifically designating a particular charity, the judge, in essence, is soliciting funds for that charity in violation of 22 NYCRR 100.5(b)(2), which prohibits the solicitation of funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization. The fact that the judge did not request the contribution is irrelevant, as the judge's designation of a specific charity as recipient constitutes solicitation on behalf of the organization.
Even when the judge recommends that the charity be one of the couple's own choice, the judge should make it plain that the judge's name should not be used if and when the couple makes such a gift.