Opinion 03-75

September 4, 2003


Digest:         Under the circumstances, a full-time judge should not serve on an advisory panel of a religious order formed for the purpose of reviewing and considering procedures for handling allegations of sexual misconduct being made against members of the order and the reassignment options available in such instances.


Rule:            22 NYCRR 100.2(C); 100.4(C)(3).


The inquiring judge informs the Committee of the following:

The superior of a religious order of priests and brothers has asked that I be a member of an advisory panel that would review both the procedures that this religious organization has created for use if any of its members were accused of sexual impropriety and to review the reassignment options that the superior would be considering were any member accused of such conduct pending, and following, the resolution of such allegations. The panel is being recruited now.

The judge goes on to say that the organization has counsel and that it has been “discussing the issues related to the sexual misconduct scandal and wanted to create the review panel for reasons other than to obtain legal advice.”

The judge recognizes that a full-time judge may not serve as a legal advisor to a non-profit organization with which the judge is associated. 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3). But, notwithstanding the intended separation of the judge’s role on the advisory panel from that of legal advisor, the Committee is of the view that it is inadvisable for the judge to participate as a member. Reviewing the procedures that the organization has created for use in its handling of such matters and consideration of reassignment options that might be appropriate with respect to members of the order accused of sexual misconduct, in our view, involves the judge in matters that may well be of significance in litigation, either civil or criminal, involving the order and its members. Identified as a member of the panel, the judge might be perceived as lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the religious order in connection with its handling of any claims that bring into question its procedures and policies, and their application in particular instances. 22 NYCRR 100.2(C).

Under such circumstances, we believe the best course is for the judge to decline the invitation to join the advisory panel that is now being formed.