Opinion: 98-50
April 23, 1998
Digest:    A judge may present a special recognition award or be an honoree at the annual fund-raising dinner of a specialized association of lawyers and judges, but may not participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities.

Rules:    22 NYCRR 100.0; 100.4(B),
              100.4(C)(1),(2); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i),(ii),(iv);
              100.5 (B)
              Opinions 98-38; 94-48(Vol. XII).


            An officer of the Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert organization, known under the acronym JALBCA, asks whether judges may participate as honorees and presenters at the organization's annual installation and awards presentation dinner. The price of the dinner is $125 per person and a journal solicitation accompanies the invitation. Unquestionably, the affair is a fund-raiser, and the inquiring judge has been asked to present an award.

            The purpose of the organization is succinctly stated in the letter of the judge requesting the opinion:

* * * JALBCA (Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert),
whose membership is exclusively composed of judges and
lawyers. We function as a specialized bar association,
providing information and support to people in our profession
and forums for the discussion of legal and related issues
concerning breast cancer. We speak mainly to judges, lawyers
and court employees. I have attached a sampling of some of the
programs provided by JALBCA. We are a nonprofit organization,
have no employees, and all our work is done by volunteer judges
and lawyers, and we do not lobby.
            Section 100.4(C)(3)(b)(ii) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct provides as follows:
[A judge] may not be a speaker or the guest of honor at
an organization's fund-raising events, but the judge may
attend such events. Nothing in this subparagraph shall
prohibit a judge from being a speaker or guest of honor
at a bar association or law school function or from
accepting at another organization's fund-raising event an
unadvertised award ancillary to such event.
            Section 100.4(C)(1)(b)(iv) of the Rules imposes the following limitation on a judge's extra-judicial activities:
[A judge] shall not use or permit the use of the prestige
of judicial officer for funding-raising or membership
solicitation, but may be listed as an officer, director or
trustee of such an organization. Use of an organization's
regular letterhead for fund-raising or membership
solicitation does not violate this provision, provided the
letterhead lists only the judge's name and office or other
position in the organization, and, if comparable designations
are listed for other persons, the judge's judicial designation.
            As stated above, the inquirer advises this Committee that the association is designated by its membership, which is composed exclusively of lawyers and judges, as a specialized bar association dealing principally with legal and related issues concerning breast cancer. The materials submitted by the judge readily confirm that characterization.

            The predecessors of sections 100.4(C)(3)(b)(ii), which likewise allowed a judge to participate as a speaker or guest of honor in the activities of a bar association or the functions of a law school, and 100.4(C)(1)(b)(iv) relating to fund-raising and membership solicitation in general, were reviewed by this Committee prior to the 1996 revision of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, at the request of the Chief Administrative Judge. Certain changes involving the relationship of judges to possible fund-raising activities of non-profit groups in general (e.g. letterheads; unadvertised awards) were made at the suggestion of the Committee. But no attempt was made to define "bar association." Section 100.0 of the Rules ("Terminology ") which is a new provision, sets forth definitions of various terms used in the Rules. No definition is provided for "bar association."

            Based on an extensive search made by this Committee it appears that other than the definition of bar association found in Black's Law Dictionary, 5th ed, which simply defines a bar association as an association consisting of members of the legal profession, no other definition, rule, regulation, or statute has been found restricting the use of the phrase "bar association" other than to organizations of licensed members of the legal profession. In the 351 references to bar associations found in Westlaw under New York statutes, there is no definition or generally accepted recognition procedure to determine what constitutes a "bar association". While these references give some deference to the phrase "duly constituted" bar associations, no requirement of some formal or official recognition is specified in the Rules.

            Evident throughout the Rules are expressions of the clear intent, design, and plan to allow judges to participate in matters affecting the law, the legal system and the administration of justice See 22 NYCRR 100.4(B), 100.4(C)(1),(2),(3), and 100.5(B). In furtherance of this goal, the Committee, in deciding inquiries like this one, hereby adopts an inclusive definition of "bar association" so as to encompass a wide variety of legal organizations composed of members of the bar whose purpose is to promote and improve the legal system and the administration of justice. That is, such a designation is acceptable without regard to the breadth of membership or the particular legal focus of the group, provided, of course, that the fundamental purpose is as stated. Opinion 94-48(Vol. XII). Thus, this Committee recently advised that a judge may be the honoree at a fund-raising dinner of an organization of gay and lesbian attorneys and judges, which describes itself as a gay and lesbian law association. See Opinion 98-38. We note that the particular organization is recognized in the New York State Bar Association web site as a national legal association.

            In sum, it is our opinion that the exception contained in section 100.4(C)(3)(b)(ii) pertaining to activities in connection with bar association functions applies, and we conclude that the judge may act as a presenter, be an honoree, and make appropriate remarks at JALBCA's annual fund-raising dinner. The judge may not, however, personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i),(iv).