Opinion: 01-29

March 8, 2001

Digest:  Under the circumstances presented, the seeking of participation by bar associations and a law school to serve as co-sponsors with the court system of a conference on access to justice issues does not constitute personal participation in fund-raising by the judiciary.

Rule:  22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i), (iii), (iv);
           Opinions 99-09 (Vol. XVII); 99-136;


            An Administrative Judge seeks the Committee's advice concerning the propriety of asking certain non-profit entities to serve as co-sponsors of a two-day conference that the court system intends to hold. As stated by the inquiring judge:

  The purpose of the conference is to bring together members of the justice community, including judges, court administrators, bar leaders, academicians and advocates, to exchange information and encourage the development and/or furthering of partnerships in four areas: strengthening the delivery of legal services; addressing the challenge of self-represented litigants; increasing the provision of pro bono services; and expanding community education and outreach.

  To ensure active participation by all segments of the justice community, we would like to ask the New York State Bar Association, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, the Capital District Women's Bar Association and a law school to serve as co-sponsors of the event. In that capacity, we expect that the co-sponsors would assist in planning the conference as well as providing support, such as assigning staff at various stages of the planning process or at the conference itself, and/or sponsoring an event at the conference.

            As presented, the Committee is of the opinion that seeking co-sponsorship of the conference is not violative of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. Section 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i) of the Rules states that a judge (and the judiciary as a whole; see Opinion 99-136), "shall not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities." Further, a judge "shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising . . ." 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(iv). Neither provision prohibits what is being undertaken herein. Clearly, seeking the "active participation of all segments of the justice community" in a conference dedicated to exploring access to justice issues is an entirely appropriate endeavor. The bringing together of such entities in a comprehensive way, obviously involves interchanges of ideas, extensive planning and an agreed upon division of effort and focus. That division of responsibility carries with it a concomitant division of costs. And to reach out and engage in such a process which results in such a sharing of costs does not, in our view, constitute a personal participation in the solicitation of funds, or the misuse of the prestige of judicial office, as contemplated in the Rules.

            It is important to emphasize that what is contemplated in this matter differs markedly from what was before the Committee in Opinion 99-09 (Vol. XVII), in which the Committee responded to an inquiry from a judge who was a member of the planning committee for a convention of judges. In that instance, the question was whether a solicitation could be made of law firms, title companies, law book publishers and clients of law firms to underwrite the costs of the various convention activities. See Opinion 00-98. Such entities were not invited to participate in the planning of the various events or to partake substantively in specific programs, or to fill any other programmatic need. The question essentially was whether judges could simply ask such entities to pay the costs. By virtue of agreeing to pay the expenses of particular activities they would be designated "sponsors." This, in our view, would be a clear violation of the prohibition against solicitation of funds, and thus was not allowable. Indeed, even a solicitation of a bar association for a direct contribution to pay the cost of a prize for a high school essay contest is impermissible, regardless of whether the solicitation is to be made by an individual judge or under the aegis of the judicial system as a whole. Opinion 99-136.

            We are of the opinion that such difficulties may be avoided in the matter before us by adherence to the projected collaborative nature of the undertaking. Under such circumstances, a joint undertaking involving use of the resources of the various participants in an agreed upon way to achieve the goals of the conference would not, in our opinion, violate the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct.(1)

1. Although not applicable herein, it is worth noting that section 100.4(C)(3)(b)(iii) does permit judges to make "recommendations to public and private fund-granting organizations on projects and programs concerning the law, the legal system or the administration of justice." 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(iii).