January 28, 1999
Digest: A judge may write a letter of reference
on behalf of a professor applying for a particular stipend if the judge
has personal knowledge of the activities of the individual in relation
to the criteria established for the granting of the award.
22 NYCRR 100.2(C);
Opinion 93-26 (Vol. XI).
The query before the Committee asks whether a judge may write a letter of recommendation for an individual in the judge's community who is seeking a special stipend to be awarded to a professor at a local college. The stipend is given to members of a college faculty who have enriched the lives of the students at the college. The judge is aware of the good deeds and projects that the faculty member has performed in the judge's community.
At issue is section 100.2(C) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, which states, in part, that "A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge."
As we noted in an earlier opinion (Opinion 93-26 [Vol. XI]):
Neither the Rules of the Chief Administrator nor the Canons prevents a letter of recommendation which reflects a judge's opinion of a person's character or work history if the judge has worked with that person. Therefore, if a judge has a reliable personal knowledge concerning an applicant who seeks a reference which reflects his or her expertise as a practitioner of the law, the judge may write such a reference as long as there is no potential for conflict or appearance of impropriety. The reference may be written on the judicial letterhead of the judge, provided that the words 'Personal and Unofficial' are noted clearly on the stationery.
As applied to the instant matter, the Committee is of the opinion that the reference may be given if the judge has reliable personal knowledge concerning the activities of the individual in relation to the qualities or criteria established for the award.