September 24, 1992
Digest: A full-time judge may serve as a member of a national commission on uniform state laws and on an advisory board of a public university as a matter of judicial ethics, but the Committee is not authorized to determine if there is any legal barrier.
Rule: 22 NYCRR 100.4(c).
A full-time judge asks if it is permissible to serve as a member of a national commission on uniform state laws, which considers and proposes legal reform measures. The judge receives no compensation, but is reimbursed for travel expenses to the conference. Appointment is made by the Governor pursuant to Executive Law §165. The judge also asks about serving as a member of an advisory board to a college in the New York City university system. The advisory board discusses problems in the criminal justice system, and its members receive no compensation.
Section 100.4 (c) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator permits judges to serve as members of organizations which are devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system and the administration of justice. The Committee, therefore, sees no ethical prohibition in the Rules of Judicial Conduct or the Code (Canons) of Judicial Conduct to the judge’s participation in the two bodies, as both are concerned with the legal system and the administration of justice.
However, the Committee notes that Article VI, section 20(b) of the State Constitution prohibits judges of specified higher courts (including the court in which the inquirer sits) from holding "any other public office or trust except an office in relation to the administration of the courts, member of a constitutional convention or member of the armed forces of the United States or of the State of New York...”
While the Committee is authorized to construe the Rules and Code (Canons) of Judicial Conduct, it is not authorized to construe provisions of the Constitution, since that is a question of law rather than of ethics. There is an apparent question of constitutional law with respect to a judge's membership on a national commission on uniform state laws, created by statute, with appointment by the Governor and authority to incur necessary expenses. The committee is not authorized to resolve this question of law. The leading case on this subject, which spells out the basic applicable principles, is Matter of Richardson, 24 7 N.Y. 401 (1928), to which the Committee calls the inquiring judge's attention.