May 8, 1997
A Family Court judge may not be a member of an organization that seeks
to ensure that all forms of reproductive health care, including legal abortions,
are made accessible without government interference or coercion and that
engages in lobbying and political activity in furtherance thereof. However,
the judge may attend a reception sponsored by the organization as long
as the judge does not engage in any activity manifesting support for the
organization or concurrence with its purposes and goals.
22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.4 (A)(1);
Opinion 95-144 (Vol. XIII).
A Family Court judge inquires whether attendance at a reception sponsored by a county Coalition for Legal Abortion and membership in the organization are permissible.
It appears that the organization is non-profit and that its stated purpose is "to ensure that the full range of reproductive health care is legal and accessible, without government interference or coercion". With respect to abortion, the organization characterizes itself as "pro-choice". In furtherance thereof, it engages in certain lobbying activities and has a political action committee which seeks, inter alia, to elect "pro-choice" legislators.
The Committee has previously stated that it is impermissible for a judge to be a member of an organization that is involved in "matters of substantial public controversy" Opinion 95-144 (Vol. XIII). There are, of course, few, if any public issues more controversial than abortion. Thus, in the opinion of the Committee, the "likelihood of significant public controversy "(Opinion 95-144), renders membership in the organization inappropriate. Such membership could well "cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge. 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(1).
However, mere attendance at a function sponsored by the organization, without
any further activity manifesting support for the organization or concurrence
with its purposes and goals would not violate the limitations expressed
in section 100.4(A) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct; nor would
it constitute an appearance of impropriety. 22 NYCRR 100.2.