Opinion: 97-100

October 16, 1997

Digest:  A full-time City Court judge, who regularly presides in consumer transaction cases, may not serve as a member of the Board of Directors of Consumers Union, which describes itself as a consumer advocacy group. Serving in such a capacity would cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially and independently in consumer transaction matters.

Rule:  22 NYCRR 100.1; 100.2; 100.4(A)(1); 100.4(C)(3).
           UCCA §§1801; 1801-A; 1803-A; 1809.


            A full-time City Court Judge inquires whether it is appropriate to run for and serve, if elected, as a member of the Board of Directors of Consumers Union.

            Generally, a judge may serve as an officer, director or trustee of not-for-profit civic, charitable, fraternal, religious, cultural and educational organizations subject to certain limitations and requirements. 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3). However, serving in a organization such as the Consumers Union, while it would appear to fall within the scope of permissible activity would cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially. 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(1).

            Documents submitted by the judge describe the organization as "...a powerful national consumer information and advocacy group,...", the publisher of "consumer oriented publications" and a provider of "consumer oriented services." The organization's by-laws require that directors "...have no connections with commercial enterprises that may affect their independent judgment as directors...".

            The inquiring judge, as a full-time City Court Judge, regularly sits in the Small Claims parts and the Commercial Claims parts of the City Court. The Small Claims parts were specifically created to provide an informal forum where only individuals or non-incorporated entities may commence proceedings against another individual or commercial entity. UCCA §§1801, 1809. Frequently, the defendant in a small claims proceeding is a corporation, retailer, vendor or other commercial entity and the transaction in issue is of a consumer nature. The Commercial Claims parts similarly provide an informal forum for corporations to commence actions involving "consumer transactions". UCCA §§1801-A (a), (b); 1803-A.

            It would be inappropriate for a judge who frequently sits in consumer related matters to serve as a member of the board of an organization that overtly champions the cause of consumers. Such service would inevitably cast reasonable doubt on the judge's independence and capacity to serve impartially. 22 NYCRR 100.1; 100.2; 100.4(A)(1).