December 7, 2006
Digest: A Court Attorney-Referee may attend an ordinary holiday dinner party as a guest of the host attorney who regularly appears in the court. He/she may, alternatively, elect to pay for the meal.
Rules: 22 NYCRR Part 50; Parts 100.1; 100.2(A), (B); 100.3(B)(8); 100.4(D)(5)(h); 100.4(H); 100.6(A); Opinions 06-44; 05-80; 98-46 (Vol. XVI); 95-119 (Vol. XIII); 92-22 (Vol. IX); 87-15(c) (Vol. I); 87-15(a)(b) (Vol. I); 87-12(a)(b) (Vol. I).
A Court Attorney-Referee inquires whether it is permissible to attend a holiday dinner party hosted by an attorney who regularly appears in his/her court. The inquirer has been invited to attend as a guest, but is willing to pay for the meal.
This Committee has, generally, applied the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct to quasi-judicial officers such as Court Attorney-Referees. 22 NYCRR 100.6(A); Opinions 98-46 (Vol. XVI); 95-119 (Vol. XIII).
The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct permit a judge to accept “ordinary social hospitality.” 22 NYCRR 100.4(D)(5)(c). In past opinions, the Committee has emphasized the word “ordinary.” A judge may not, for example, attend a party that provides guests with a complete dinner at an expensive restaurant or other affair that is more expensive or lavish than an ordinary party. Opinions 87-15(a)(b) (Vol. I); 87-12(a)(b) (Vol. I). The Committee thus concludes that the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct permit a Court Attorney-Referee to accept ordinary social hospitality in the form of a buffet or a sit-down dinner, as long as it is not unusually expensive or lavish. 22 NYCRR 100.4(D)(5)(h); 100.4(H).
The Court Attorney-Referee may, if he/she chooses, pay the host for the cost of the meal. Regardless of whether he/she pays, attendance at such events with lawyers is, of course, subject to the other requirements of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct and the Rules Governing the Conduct of Non-Judicial Employees. 22 NYCRR Part 50. Thus, the Court Attorney-Referee should decline the invitation if the host is presently an active participant in a trial or hearing before him/her, and under any circumstances, should not discuss any pending matters with the host or others. 22 NYCRR 100.1; 100.2(A), (B); 100.3(B)(8); Opinions 06-44; 92-22 (Vol. IX); 87-15(c) (Vol. I).
However, this Committee takes no position on whether the Rules Governing the Conduct of Non-Judicial Employees permit the Court Attorney-Referee to accept this invitation. That question must be resolved by the Unified Court System’s Office of Court Administration, the agency with the ultimate authority to interpret Part 50. (Opinion 05-80; Contact: ETHICS HELPLINE: 1-888-28ETHIC).