Opinion 99-136

September 14, 1999


Digest:         A letter soliciting contributions from bar associations in support of a high school essay contest sponsored by a judicial district's Gender Fairness Committee should not contain the names of any judges or any references to the State of New York or the Unified Court System.


Rule:            22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(3); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i) and (iv).


         A judge who is the Chair of a judicial district's Committee to Promote Gender Fairness in the Courts seeks this Committee's advice concerning a proposed essay contest for local high school students in honor of Women's History Month. The committee hopes to award at least two cash prizes of $250.00 from funds contributed by local bar associations.

         The judge states:


I have enclosed for your review: (1) a proposed letter to the bar associations requesting their support of the project; (2) a proposed letter to the schools announcing the contest; and (3) an invitation describing the contest to students. The letter to the bar associations would be signed by Professor ______________. The letter to the schools would be signed by Professor ____________ or a judge. Please note that there are two letterheads. The stationery for the bar association letter would only refer to the committee and omit the judicial names.

         With respect to the proposed letter to the bar associations, the Committee notes that the regular letterhead of the stationery of the Gender Fairness Committee contains the names and judicial titles of the Chief Administrative Judge, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge, District Administrative Judge, as well as the Chair of the committee who is also identified by judicial title. It is those names that have been excised in the proposed letter to the bar associations. The Committee is of the view that this does not go far enough, as the letterhead still bears the heading "State of New York" "Unified Court System" and a replica of the State seal. This, we believe, could readily give rise to the impression that the solicitation is at the behest of the Unified Court System as a whole and hence of its judges, collectively. Since, as the inquirer recognizes, a judge could not solicit such contributions, it follows that the solicitation should not be seen as emanating from the judiciary as a whole. 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i) and (iv). To avoid such an impression we therefore advise that the letterhead to be used not bear the State seal or references to the State of New York or the Unified Court System. And, as recognized by the inquirer, it should not be signed by a judge.

         As to the letter to high schools and the information being given to the students advising of the contest, the Committee does not believe it is improper to use the Gender Fairness Committee's regular stationery to which may be affixed a judge's signature. The essay contest is presumably within the scope of the committee's authorized activities, and providing such information does not involve solicitation of funds or is in any way incompatible with judicial office. 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(3).