January 24, 2002
Digest: A part-time town justice may (1) chair the annual school board budget meeting and oversee the school budget vote; (2) attend a fund-raiser sponsored by a not-for-profit organization; (3) be honored for volunteer services at a non-fund-raising event; and, (4) serve as a high school graduation commencement speaker.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.4(A); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i); Opinion 89-155 (Vol. V).
A part-time town justice asks whether it is ethically permissible to chair the annual school board budget meeting, for which the justice is paid $40, and to preside over the budget vote. During the meeting, the justice introduces the Board President, the Business Agent and the Superintendent. In addition, the justice moderates the question and answer portion of the meeting. On the day of the budget vote, the justice greets voters as they register, answers voters’ questions about how to use the voting machine, and answers tellers’ questions. At the conclusion of the vote, the justice opens the voting machine and reports the results to the teller.
The judge also asks whether it is permissible to (1) attend fund-raisers sponsored by not-for-profit organizations, (2) be honored by the community for volunteer services the justice performs, and (3) serve as a high school graduation commencement speaker.
In Opinion 89-155 (Vol. V), the Committee concluded that a part-time judge may preside at an annual school board budget meeting because the role is largely an honorary function. The current inquiry does not warrant a different result with respect to either the annual school board budget meeting or the judge’s duties in connection with that event. Pursuant to section 100.4(A) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, a judge may participate in extra-judicial activities that (1) do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s ability to be impartial; (2) do not detract from the dignity of judicial office; and, (3) do not interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties and are not incompatible with judicial office. 22 NYCRR 100.4(A). In the Committee’s view, neither chairing the annual school board budget meeting nor providing assistance on the day of the budget vote is would violate this Rule. Moreover, although the justice is compensated for chairing the annual meeting, the amount is de minimus, and does not change the honorary nature of the position.
As for the judge’s remaining questions, section 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct authorizes a judge to attend a fund-raising event so long as the judge is neither a speaker nor guest of honor. A judge may, however, be honored for performing volunteer services in the community, but only if the occasion is not a fund-raising event. Finally, the Committee sees no ethical barrier preventing a judge from serving as a high school graduation commencement speaker.