Opinion: 01-23

March 8, 2001

Digest:  A newly-elected judge should not continue as the Coordinator or Chairman of an organization whose sole function is to implement an annual Run/Walk event to raise money for local civic organizations, including the auxiliary police.

Rule:  22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.4(A);
           Opinions 96-78 (Vol. XIV);
           98-119 (Vol. XVII); 99-08 (Vol. XVII).


            A newly-elected full-time judge informs the Committee that for the past 17 years the judge has served as chairman of an organization called "[Village] Mustang Run Committee Corp. for the benefit of [Village] Volunteer Ambulance Corps, [Village] Athletic Association, [Village] Police Athletic League, [Village] Auxiliary Police, [Village] Fire Department (Life Saving Equipment), [Village] Historical Society, and the [Village] Youth Services."

            It appears that the sole function of the organization is to conduct an annual run/walk for the benefit of the entities named in its title. In connection with that event, two letters have been prepared, one which is a solicitation of financial sponsorship, signed by the judge's spouse, and another person, each of whom is designated "Co-Coordinator," and a letter to a newspaper placing an advertisement in which the services of volunteers are solicited. The latter letter is signed by the judge and asks the respondent to telephone the judge, presumably at the judge's home.

            The judge's name appears as the first name on the letterhead of the organization, and he/she is listed as "Coordinator," which as indicated by the judge, means "Chairman." The judge seeks the opinion of the Committee as to the propriety of both letters.

            In the Committee's opinion, the use of the judge's name in both instances would be improper. The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct allow a full-time judge to assist a charitable organization in planning fund-raising but does not allow any personal participation in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities. 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i).

            It appears that in this instance the judge's role extends beyond "planning." Serving and being identified as "Coordinator" or "Chairman," amounts, in our view, to a fund-raising activity that is impermissible. This is particularly so since the organization is in the nature of an ad hoc committee existing solely for the purpose of raising funds at a specific event. The Committee has previously recommended that judges not be listed on the letterheads of such groups. Opinions 99-08 (Vol. XVII), 96-78 (Vol. XIV). Nor should a judge be involved in the solicitation of volunteers. As stated in Opinion 98-119 (Vol. XVII), which also involved the solicitation of volunteer services, "The degree of involvement requested of the judge, albeit not requiring the direct solicitation of funds, could, in our view, lead to a public perception that the prestige of judicial office is being used to support the endeavors of this particular group. This would be in contravention of section 100.4(C)(3)(b)(iv) of the Rules."

            Finally, we note that one of the beneficiaries of the fund-raising effort is the local auxiliary police. Association of the judge with a fund-raising effort on behalf of a group involved in law enforcement brings into question the appearance of partiality. 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.4(A). Thus, while a judge could, for example, contribute to a local police benevolent association (Opinion 98-40 [Vol. XVI]), a judge should not be involved as the leader of a fund-raising effort on behalf of such an organization.