January 19, 1995
Digest: A full-time judge can present Certificate of Achievement Awards at Scout ceremonies which are not fundraisers. In addition, the judge may serve on the Board of Directors of a not-for-profit community group engaged in town revitalization where the judge does not participate in the solicitation of funds nor allows the use of judicial office for that purpose. However, the judge is prohibited from serving on the Board of Directors of a non-profit “Grandparents” group which assists grandparents seeking custody of or visitation with grandchildren.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.5(b)(1)
A full-time judge inquires as to the propriety of joining the board of directors of two not-for-profit organizations and, in addition, requests an opinion relative to her/his presentation of awards at certain specific events.
The judge has been asked if, on occasion, the judge would be available to present Certificate of Achievement Awards on behalf of a Town Supervisor at Girl Scout and Boy Scout ceremonies. We find no ethical prohibition on the judge’s participation in such events, which are not fundraisers, and charge no admission.
As to the organizational activities referred to, the first relates to service on the board of directors of a not-for-profit community group whose aim is re-vitalization of a portion of the town where the judge resides. We find no ethical bar to such service, provided the judge does not participate in the solicitation of funds or uses his/her office for that purpose.
The other organizational activity relates to service on the board of directors of a “Grandparents” group, another not-for-profit organization, which has among its purposes the rendering of assistance to grandparents seeking custody of or visitation with grandchildren. The Committee views service on this board as ethically impermissible. The fact that the judge is not a grandparent is irrelevant.
What is significant is the involvement of the group and its members with the judicial system. The organization states as its most important purpose and goal “... to give moral support, guidance and advice to ... grandparents who find their efforts bogged down by bureaucratic obstacles which include ... the complexity of our society’s legal process”. The Rules of the Chief Administrator of the Courts prohibit any judge from lending “... the prestige of his or her office to advance the private interests of others nor shall any judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence him or her.” 22 NYCRR 1200.2.
In addition, the rules also provide that “A judge shall not serve if it is likely that the organization ... will be regularly engaged in adversary proceedings in any court.” 22 NYCRR 1200.5(b)(1).
Based on the materials presented to the Committee concerning the purpose and anticipated activities of the group, the Committee is of the opinion that the judge should not serve.