Joint Opinion 03-84 and 03-89

September 4, 2003


Digest:         Judges may participate in legal educational programs sponsored by advocacy organizations provided that the judges do not seek to instruct on questions of strategy or tactics in support of the litigation engaged in by members of such groups, and do not comment publicly on pending or impending cases.


Rule:            22 NYCRR 100.3(B)(8); 100.4(A)(1).


         Two judges seek the Committees advice concerning their participation in certain professional educational events, involving lawyers who specialize in particular areas of the law on behalf of certain groups of litigants.

         In one instance (03-84) the judge has been asked to give a lecture conference sponsored by the National Consumer Law Center. The overall focus of the conference is consumer rights litigation, and, in particular, a symposium on class actions. The audience is described as composed of “consumer lawyers.”

         In the other instance (03-89) the judge who sits in Housing Court has been invited to participate in a Continuing Legal Education program sponsored by a legal services group that appears in Housing Court. It is anticipated that most attendees will be tenant advocates from legal service organizations but there are no bars to attendance. Both judges inquire as to the appropriateness of their participation.

         Clearly, judges may speak, lecture, and participate in educational programs, conferences, symposia and the like on the law, the legal system and administration of justice; and the fact that the lawyers who constitute the audiences for such events may be advocates on behalf of particular groups, e.g. tenants, or consumers, does not render such participation suspect. Nevertheless, in such situations caution must be exercised. For a judge must not be perceived as giving what amounts to partisan advice on questions of strategy or tactics as to how the lawyer is best likely to succeed in such cases on behalf of their particular clients. Otherwise, the judge could well be perceived as acting in a manner that casts doubt on his or her capacity to act impartially as a judge, in violation of section 100.4(A)(1) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(1). This would be especially so in the event cases involving the very subject matter of the programs are likely to come before the judge. Further, care must be taken to avoid public comment on pending or impending cases, as required by section 100.3(B)(8) of the Rules. Subject to such limitations, the inquiring judges may participate in the conference and the Continuing Legal Education program, respectively.