December 12, 1996
Digest: A judge may be one of 18 honorees at a national religious organization's dinner, where no fund-raising will take place, and where the differential between the price of the dinner and its cost will be minimal.
Rule: 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(b)(ii); Opinions 94-16, Vol. XII, 94-07, Vol XII, 88-13, Vol. I
A judge asks whether the judge may be an honoree, together with 17 others, at the annual dinner of a national religious organization and receive an award together with the other honorees, as representatives of their synagogues. It appears that the ticket price exceeds the cost of the dinner. However, the judge has been informed that the organization intends to utilize the difference to pay for the dinners of invited guests, including various public dignitaries who will be attending, and for others unable to afford a ticket. A minimal surplus is possible, but there will be no fund-raising at the dinner.
Section 100.4(C)(b)(ii) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct provides that a judge "may not be a speaker or the guest of honor at an organization's fund-raising events, but the judge may attend such events." The Committee in Opinion 88-13, (Vol. I), held that a judge may serve as chair of a dinner committee where there is no fundraising and a fund-raising journal does not involve the judge or the use of the judge's name. Consequently, the dinner and award do not present a problem as there will be no fund-raising at the event.
A second question arises because the ticket price appears to have some aspect of fundraising. In Opinion 88-13, the Committee noted that "this opinion is rendered on the further assumption, although not expressly stated in the letter, that the price of tickets to the event does not include a fund-raising premium." The Committee more recently held that a judge could not participate by speaking or presenting awards where "funds raised by the sale of tickets will exceed the cost of the event, which funds will be remitted to the association." (Opinion 94-07, Vol. XII.) Similarly, a judge may not be a guest of honor at a dinner where the sale of tickets will constitute the fund-raising (Opinion 94-16, Vol. XII).
Although the prior opinions do not specify the point at which a difference between price and cost is disqualifying, it appears that requiring an absolute dollar for dollar match between the cost of the dinner and the ticket price is neither practical nor essential to prevent the evil at which the rule is aimed. Accordingly, under all the presented circumstances, the Committee believes the inquiring judge may be an honoree at the organization's dinner.