January 24, 2002
Digest: Whether officiating at a ceremony to renew marriage vows while dressed in a theme costume involving football will detract from the dignity of judicial office is a question to be determined by the judge, under all the circumstances presented.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.4; 100.4(A)(2).
A town justice has been asked to officiate at a ceremony during which a couple will renew their marriage vows. Because the couple first met during a Super Bowl party, all the participants in the ceremony, including the judge, will dress in football related clothing. The judge asks whether there is any ethical prohibition to wearing such clothing while officiating during the ceremony.
While a ceremony at which a couple renews their marriage vows is significant and meaningful to the couple involved, as well any friends and family who may attend, it has no legal effect on the marital status of the couple. And, while the couple often asks a person who is authorized by law to perform a marriage ceremony to officiate at their renewal ceremony, there is no legal requirement that they do so. The justice, therefore, is engaging in an extra-judicial activity, the propriety of which is governed by section 100.4 of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. While authorized to engage in extra-judicial activities, a judge must be sure that a particular activity does not detract from the dignity of the judicial office. 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(2). Officiating at a ceremony to renew marriage vows is not in and of itself inconsistent with the dignity of judicial office. However, given the circumstances described by the inquiring justice, the Committee sees at least the potential for demeaning the dignity of judicial office. Whether that is in fact the case can be decided only by the judge involved under the particular circumstances presented to the judge.