April 29, 1999
Under the circumstances presented, a full-time judge may perform certain
ministerial tasks necessitated by the judge's status as executor of an
estate that was completed before becoming a judge, without first seeking
the approval of the Chief Administrative Judge.
N.Y. State Const. Art. VI §20(b)(4);
22 NYCRR 100.4(E)(1); 100.4(G);
Opinion 89-38 (Vol. III).
The inquiring full-time judge, who had served as executor of the estate of an long-time family friend, has been asked by the sole beneficiary of the estate to sign a claim form related to recently discovered unclaimed funds. The judge's status as executor began long before the judge assumed the bench, and the judge's services have been completed. Now, as a result of the recent discovery of the funds, the estate requires the signing of the form and the obtaining of a copy of a currently dated Certificate of Letter of Testament indicating that the judge has not been substituted as the executor of the estate. The judge would receive no compensation for this additional service.
At the outset, the Committee notes that what is requested of the judge does not involve the completion of unfinished legal work, which would be forbidden. N.Y. State Const. Art. VI, §20(b)(4); 22 NYCRR 100.4(G); Opinion 89-38 (Vol. III). Rather, what is involved relates to the judge's status as the executor of an estate that has been completed, but which unexpectedly requires the current performance of purely ministerial tasks. While under section 100.4(E)(1) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, a judge may serve as a fiduciary on behalf of persons with "whom the judge has maintained a longstanding personal relationship of trust and confidence," with the permission of the Chief Administrative Judge, the Committee does not believe that the judge is required to seek such permission in order to do what is now required. Certainly, nothing in the performance of the described tasks is likely to "interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties." 22 NYCRR 100.4(E)(1). Thus, under the particular circumstances presented, the Committee is of the opinion that the judge may sign the claim form as the estate representative and obtain a currently dated Certificate of Letter of Testament.