Opinion 07-74

June 7, 2007


Digest:         It would not be appropriate for a full-time judge to serve on the Board of Directors of an organization which actively participates in jail ministry programs, where services include providing bail assistance and advocacy for inmates, and where the clients of the organization and/or the organization itself may regularly appear before the judge’s court.


Rules:            22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(a)(i), (ii); Opinions 07-46; 01-64 (Vol. XX); Joint

                     Opinion 00-101 and 00-104 (Vol XIX).



         A full-time Judge inquires whether he/she may serve on the Board of Directors of a local charity, which has an active jail ministry program. The jail ministry provides advocacy for those incarcerated in the county jail and provides bail money and legal assistance to eligible individuals who are held in pre-conviction or pre-trial detention. Further, volunteers for the organization also visit incarcerated persons in jail, "offering a wide-range of assistance and support."

         The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct provide that while a judge "may be a member or serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of ...[a] charitable, cultural, fraternal or civic organization not conducted for profit," the judge should not serve in such a capacity for organizations that will regularly appear before the judge, or if the judge is a full-time judge, will regularly be engaged in adversarial proceedings in any court. 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(a)(i), (ii); see Opinions 07-46; Joint Opinion 00-101 and 00-104 (Vol. Vol. XIX). Applying this provision, the Committee has determined that a judge who presides over surrogate Court matters should not serve on the Board of Directors of an organization which provides services to mentally and physically disabled persons in the community, where the organization will be involved in proceedings that ordinarily would come before the judge. Opinion 07-46.

         As a provider of advocacy services for incarcerated individuals, this particular organization will likely regularly be engaged in proceedings before one or more courts, and may well be regularly engaged in adversarial proceedings before the judge’s court. The clients of the organization will also, likely appear before the judge’s court.

         In light of the services provided by the organization, it is "inappropriate for a judge to serve on the board of directors of a not-for-profit organization" which champions issues that the judge "may well be called upon to address in his or her judicial capacity." Opinion 01-64 (Vol. XX). Accordingly, "[s]erving on the board of directors of this particular organization, under these circumstances would be incompatible with the inquirer’s judicial duties and would also cast doubt on the judge’s independence and impartiality." Opinion 07-46.

         Therefore, it would not be ethically permissible for the judge to serve on the board of directors of an organization which provides services in connection with its jail ministry.