Opinion 07-17

April 19, 2007


Digest:         A judge may participate in a charity’s fund-raising walk, including serving on its planning committee, subject to certain limitations and restrictions regarding the nature and extent of such participation.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i), (iv); Opinions 06-114; 06-78; 02-39; 01-90 (Vol. XX); 01-23 (Vol. XIX); 99-08 (Vol. XVII); 96-147 (Vol. XV); 90-166 (Vol. VI).




         A judge asks whether he/she may support a national charitable organization dedicated to fighting a serious illness by contributing personal funds; participating in a local annual walk intended to raise funds for the organization; serving on an ad hoc committee that plans the walk; and performing tasks needed to set up for the walk, such as placing signs recognizing other sponsors and directing walks, setting out food and drink stands, registering participants, handing out raffle prizes and picking up in-kind donations from sponsors. The judge indicates that he/she will not solicit funds or in-kind donations, permit his/her name to be used in solicitation of donations, or sell any raffle tickets.


         Sections 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i) and (iv) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct provide that a judge may serve as a member of a charitable organization and may assist in the planning of fund-raising activities. A judge may not, however, personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities, and may not permit the use of the prestige of the judicial office for fund-raising solicitation. 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i), (iv).


         The judge’s contribution of personal funds and participation in a charity walk do not fall within this prohibition, provided that the judge does not solicit funds or permit his/her participation or judicial title to be used in raising funds for the organization or the event. Opinions 06-114; 01-90 (Vol. XX). Similarly, the judge may walk with members of a team of participants if the donations other team members solicit or collect are without reference to the judge and the judge does not solicit individuals to participate on the team or to sponsor any team members. Opinion 96-147 (Vol. XV). In addition, the activities the inquirer lists relating to setting up the walk and directing walkers are permissible, inasmuch as they relate only tangentially to the actual fund-raising aspects of the event. This Committee has previously permitted such activity. Opinions 02-39; 96-147 (Vol. XV); 90-166 (Vol. VI).


         Finally, although the judge may be a member of an ad hoc committee that exists solely for the purpose of planning the walk (22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i)), the judge may not serve or be identified as the chair of the committee or be involved in the solicitation of volunteers, because such a degree of involvement could lead to the public perception that the prestige of judicial office is being used to support the endeavors of the charitable organization. This appearance of impropriety exists even if the judge does not solicit funds directly or permit his/her name to be used for such a purpose. Opinions 06-78, 01-23 (Vol. XIX); 99-08 (Vol. XVII).


         In this regard, we alert the inquirer to Opinion 99-08 (Vol. XVII). In that opinion, the Committee concluded that a judge should not be listed as a member of a bar association’s ad hoc committee where the sole purpose of the committee was to invite people to a fund-raising event. Here, the judge will be a member of the planning committee. But, in order for the judge to participate as a member, the activities of that group must be restricted to planning the event. That is, if the planning committee is also involved in publicly promoting the event, and the judge is listed as a member of the committee on any promotional material, the judge should decline to serve, or, at the very least, insist that his/her name not be listed.