December 12, 1996
Digest: A full-time judge should not be an actor in a commercial motion picture.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 110.4(D)(3); Opinion 95-55 Vol. XIII; 94-57 Vol XII; 94-19, Vol XII
A full time judge has been asked to play the role of a judge in a commercial motion picture for which there would be compensation in the sum of $1,000. The role is a brief one and involves several lines of dialogue spoken by the judge. In seeking the opinion of the Committee, the judge states that it is his/her understanding that federal judges have appeared in “numerous movies” in the role of judges.
In the opinion of the Committee, the judge should not accept the offer to appear in the movie. Section 100.4(D)(3) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct states that a full-time judge shall not serve as an “. . .employee or other active participant of any business entity. . .” The essence of that proscription is the rendering of a service by the judge on behalf of a “business entity”, i.e., an enterprise organized for profit.
In applying that principle, the Committee, in Opinion 94-19, Vol XII advised that a full-time judge may not teach a dance class at a private performing arts studio even if such services were not compensated. Then, in Opinion 94-57, Vol XII, in response to a further inquiry from the same full-time judge, the Committee stated that it would be permissible for the judge to teach dance at the facility of a not-for-profit corporation for such extra-judicial activity. Further, in Opinion 95-55, Vol XIII, the Committee advised that a full-time judge may not accept private employment either as an employee or as an independent contractor for any entity organized for profit, such as a gas station, landscaper, security company, beach club or taxi company.
In the instant matter, it appears that the movie is being produced by a corporation organized for profit. It therefore follows that the judge may not be an employee or active participant in the activities of that enterprise. Performing as an actor in the movie, in the opinion of the Committee, constitutes active participation in the affairs of the corporation. Accordingly, the judge should not appear in the motion picture.