Opinion 10-130

October 28, 2010


Digest:         A full-time judge may serve on the Board of Directors of a not-for-profit organization involved in the promotion of safety standards and administrative reform in the sport of boxing, but may not meet with members of the State Legislature to promote the organization’s legislative agenda.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(A); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(C)(1); 100.4(C)(3); 100.4(C)(3)(a)(i)-(ii); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i)-(iv); 100.5(A)(1); 100.5(A)(1)(iii); Opinions 10-54; 09-56; 01-63 (Vol. XX); 99-77 (Vol. XVIII).


         A full-time judge asks whether he/she may serve on the board of directors of a not-for-profit organization that is, according to information the judge provided, involved in the promotion of “safety standards, matchmaking and ranking credibility, administrative competency and accountability in boxing regulation.” The judge states that he/she would not be involved in any fund-raising activities and would not appear at a public hearing before an executive or legislative body, but would, as a director, meet with “an individual legislator to discuss the merits of a bill” that the organization favors.

         A judge must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all the judge’s activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge is specifically prohibited from lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]) and must refrain from directly or indirectly engaging in political activity except as expressly permitted by the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][1]). A judge must conduct all of his/her extra-judicial activities so that they are not incompatible with judicial office and do not (1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge; (2) detract from the dignity of judicial office; or (3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A][1]-[3]). Subject to these and other limitations, a judge may serve as an officer, director or non-legal advisor of a civic or charitable organization not conducted for profit (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3]).

         Therefore, the inquiring judge may serve on the board of directors of the not-for-profit organization he/she describes, subject to the limitations set forth in the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct which he/she acknowledges, including refraining from fund-raising on the not-for-profit organization’s behalf (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i]-[iv]) and representing the organization at a public hearing before an executive or legislative body or official (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][1]). In addition, the organization must not be engaged in proceedings that ordinarily would come before the judge and must not be engaged regularly in adversary proceedings in any court (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][a][i]-[ii]).

         However, the judge may not meet with individual legislators “to discuss the merits of a bill” the organization might support. The issues generated by such legislation may well be controversial (see Opinion 99-77 [Vol. XVIII]), and such proposals will not concern “the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice” (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][1][iii]). Accordingly, the judge’s participation as a legislative advocate for the organization could readily be perceived as prohibited political activity and use of his/her judicial office to promote private interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]; 100.4[A]; 100.5[A][1]; Opinions 10-54; 09-56; 01-63 [Vol. XX]).