October 25, 2001
Digest: A judge should not accept a $500 gift certificate from the son of a good friend, whose wedding ceremony the judge had performed, to be used for dinner in a restaurant even if the judge had been an invited guest to the wedding reception at that restaurant but was unable to attend because of another commitment.
Rule: Gen. Mun. L. §805-b; 22 NYCRR 100.2;100.4(D)(5)(c); 100.4(D)(5)(e).
The inquiring judge performed a marriage ceremony for the son of a “good friend” who also had invited the judge and the judge’s spouse to the reception at a well-known restaurant in New York City. The judge had to decline the invitation to the wedding party because of another commitment.
The judge had made it clear that he/she would not accept a fee for performing the ceremony. However, following the ceremony, the bridegroom handed the judge a sealed envelope, stating that it was not money and was not a fee. Inside was a note from the bride and groom stating that since the judge and his/her spouse were unable to attend the wedding party would they please have dinner at the restaurant as their guests. Enclosed was a gift certificate redeemable at the restaurant with a value of $500. The judge seeks the Committee’s advice as to whether he/she and spouse may use the gift certificate.
In the opinion of the Committee, the gift certificate should be returned. While it is quite true that a judge may accept ordinary social hospitality (22 NYCRR 100.4[D][c]), or a gift from a “close personal friend whose appearance would in any event require disqualification” (22 NYCRR 100.4[D][e]) that is not the situation presented. Here, the performance of the ceremony and the tendering of the gift certificate are inextricable. Given the amount of the gift and the circumstances under which it was given, the reasonable inference is that the gift was, at least in part, in recognition of the judge having performed the ceremony. Indeed, no claim is made that the judge would have been given the gift certificate if he/she had been unable to perform the ceremony because of another commitment, or that any invitees who might have had to decline the invitation were similarly given $500 gift certificates.
What controls, under these circumstances, are the constraints imposed by section 805-b of the General Municipal Law which forbids a judge from accepting a gift or benefit in excess of $75, for performing a wedding ceremony. We believe that acceptance of the gift certificate would violate this provision, and would constitute an appearance of impropriety under section 100.2 of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. 22 NYCRR 100.2. The judge should, as stated, return the gift certificate.
* Please note that General Municipal Law §805-b has been amended to provide that “no public officer listed in section eleven of the domestic relations law shall be prohibited from accepting any fee or compensation having a value of one hundred dollars or less, whether in the form of money, property, services or entertainment, for the solemnization of a marriage by such public officer at a time and place other than the public officer's normal public place of business, during normal hours of business.” Gen. Mun. L. §805-b (2007) (emphasis added).