Opinion 98-17


January 29, 1998

 

Digest:          A judge may accept a gift of a trip on a private yacht from a close personal friend if the judge is currently disqualified from presiding over matters involving the owners of the yacht and the friend due to prior relationships. The value of the trip must be reported to the court clerk.

 

Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.3(E); 100.4(D)(5)(e); 100.4(D)(5)(h); 100.4(H)(2); Matter of Chananau, Comm. on Jud. Conduct, September 10, 1982.


Opinion:


         A close personal friend and former business associate of a judge has offered the judge and the judge's spouse a trip to the Caribbean on a large, privately owned yacht. The yacht is owned by an electronic media enterprise and a principal of that enterprise. The principal of the enterprise will not be participating in the voyage but the judge's friend and the friend's spouse will be aboard.


         The judge is currently disqualified from handling any matters involving the company, its principal and the friend, due to prior friendship, business, legal and charitable relationships. The judge asks if he/she may accept this invitation and participate in the trip.


         Section 100.4(D)(5)(e) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct permits a judge to accept a gift, bequest, favor or loan from a relative or close personal friend whose appearance or interest in a case would in any event require disqualification under section 100.3(E). 22 NYCRR 100.4(D)(5)(e). However, a judge must report the value of any such gift, if its value exceeds $150, to the clerk of the judge's court as mandated by the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. Section 100.4(H)(2).


         In light of the fact that the inquiring judge is currently disqualified from presiding over any matters involving any of the parties involved in this voyage, it is the opinion of the Committee that the judge and the judge's spouse may accept the offer. However, the value of the trip would far exceed $150. Thus the judge must calculate its market value and report that amount as the value of the gift pursuant to sections 100.4(D)(5)(h) and 100.4(H)(2).


         This instance is clearly distinguishable from the facts in Matter of Chananau, NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct, September 10, 1982. In Matter of Chananau, the respondent was admonished for accepting transportation, lodging, meals and other travel services from various providers at greatly reduced prices when arrangements for those services were made by an attorney who was regularly soliciting and receiving appointments from the respondent.