Opinion: 00-102

September 14, 2000

Digest:  Under the circumstances, it is not unethical for a judge to appear in a television film featuring Italian-Americans of note, which is being produced by a not-for-profit corporation and is to be aired on Columbus Day.

Rule:  22 NYCRR 100.2(C); 100.4(B).


            A judge informs the Committee that the judge has "been asked by the Columbus Citizens Foundation to participate in the celebration of Columbus Day 2000. This foundation organizes and runs the annual Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan." Specifically, the judge has been asked by the foundation, which is a not-for-profit corporation, "to be one of the Italian-American people of note who would be featured in a short televised spot to be aired during the NBC broadcast of the annual Columbus Day Parade . . . ." The aim is to "counteract the negative stereotype commonly portrayed in the media." There is no political activity involved, nor is there any fund-raising. The judge asks whether participation is permissible and, if so, whether the judge may be filmed in chambers wearing judicial robes.

            The Committee is of the opinion that there is no ethical impediment to the judge's participation. Judges may participate in civic activities (22 NYCRR 100.4[B]), and the proposed filming is entirely appropriate in light of the occasion. Further, we see no ethical problem presented by filming the judge wearing judicial robes. In our view this does not present any danger of lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or of others. See 22 NYCRR 100.2(C). The wearing of judicial robes is simply a signification of judicial status, which, in view of the purpose of the filming, is also appropriate. As to filming in chambers we simply note that section 29.1 of the Rules of the Chief Judge requires permission from the Chief Administrative Judge or the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, or the Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, depending on the court involved. 22 NYCRR 29.1.