Opinion: 97-19

March 13, 1997

Digest:  A judge may join an organization comprised of persons in government service of a particular ethnic group and serve on its board of directors so long as the group does not invidiously discriminate.

Rules:  22 NYCRR 100.2(D); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i);
             Opinion 96-19 (Vol. XIV).


            A judge inquires whether he/she may join an organization known as Irish-Americans in Government, Inc., and participate as a member of its board of directors. The inquirer states that the objective of the organization "is to preserve and publicize the history of the accomplishments and contribution to public service of Irish-Americans."

            The judge asks if membership in the organization is violative of any provision of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, and, in particular, cites section 100.2(D), which provides as follows:

(D) A judge shall not hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability or marital status. This provision does not prohibit a judge from holding membership in an organization that is dedicated to the preservation of religious, ethnic, cultural or other values of legitimate common interest to its members.
            From the information provided by the inquiring judge, it appears that the organization is dedicated to preserving the cultural viewpoints and concerns of particular interest to Irish-Americans. There is no indication that the organization practices "invidious discrimination", which has been described as arbitrarily excluding from membership, on the basis of race, religion, sex, or national origin those individuals who would otherwise be admitted to membership (see, Shaman, J., Lubet, S. & Alfini, J., Judicial Conduct & Ethics, § 101.8, at 325-326 (2nd Ed. 1995.))

            Thus, on the understanding that the inquiry is directed solely to the membership practice limiting membership to Irish-Americans in government, the Committee perceives no ethical impediment to the judge's intended participation. No opinion is expressed as to any other organizational practice that might be involved and of which the Committee is unaware.

            The judge is further advised that he/she cannot do through the organization that which a judge is prohibited from doing by the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (e.g., engaging in political activity). The inquirer notes that he/she is aware of the limitations on fund-raising set forth in section 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i).

            Finally, we note that in Opinion 96-19 (Vol. XIV), this Committee stated that the inquirer, a judge involved in the formation of the same organization, should only solicit the membership of judicial colleagues. That opinion was reached in light of the fact that the inquiring judge was not a court administrator or an appellate judge, which, were that the case, might have affected our answer to the inquiry.