September 13, 2012
Digest: A judge who is participating in a not-for-profit religious institution’s outreach trip to interact with children in a foreign country (1) may participate in discussions about the trip, provided that the judge is not involved in fund-raising; (2) must instruct those raising funds for the trip not to use his/her judicial title in soliciting funds; (3) may solicit children’s drawings that will be distributed during the trip; and (4) may permit his/her judicial title to appear in an information booklet for parents of the children they will meet during the trip.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i), (iv); Opinions 11-37; 10-157; 08-20; 06-105.
A part-time judge asks for guidance about his/her participation as a member of a church team in an educational and charitable “outreach” trip sponsored by the church for the purpose of interacting with children in a foreign country. The judge says the team will solicit funds for the “[geographical location] trip,” but explains that the judge will not personally solicit funds for the trip or permit the use of his/her name or photograph for fund-raising.1 The judge states that, ordinarily, such teams “speak during [religious services] about the trip,” “plan some activity that engages people to participate,” and also “collect something” other than money from the congregation for distribution in the foreign country, such as eyeglasses or (in this case) children’s drawings. The judge asks four specific questions, which the Committee will address seriatim.
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge may assist a not-for-profit religious organization in planning fund-raising, but may not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][i]). Also, a judge may not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising or membership solicitation (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][iv]; see also 22 NYCRR 100.2[C] [judge may not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance private interests]).
First, the judge asks to what extent he/she may “participate in communications within the [religious institution]” concerning the trip. The Committee has advised that a judge may participate in a church-sponsored trip to Africa to work and minister at an orphanage, provided that the judge “does not participate in fund-raising events or lend the prestige of judicial office to any such efforts” (Opinion 08-20; see also 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][i], [iv]). Here, too, the Committee believes the inquiring judge may fully participate in discussions about the trip, including the purpose and goals of the trip, provided that the judge does not participate in the solicitation of funds (see generally id.).2
Second, the judge asks what “guidelines” he/she should give to those who are raising funds for the trip, including whether individual team members other than the judge may be named. In the Committee’s view, the judge should make clear to those who are raising funds for the trip that the judge is prohibited from personally participating in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities and should also instruct them not to refer to the judge’s title in any communications regarding fund-raising (see generally Opinion 08-20; 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][i], [iv]).
However, the judge need not conceal his/her participation in the trip, and therefore his/her name may be included in a listing of team members (see generally Opinion 10-157 [judge may deliver food baskets to needy families and drive the judge’s personal vehicle bearing judicial license plates while doing so]; see also Opinions 11-37 [although a judge may not be named beforehand in the promotional material for a charitable fund-raising event, the judge need not thereafter conceal the fact that he/she accepted an award at the event]; 06-105 [a judge who is participating in a permissible extra-judicial activity is not required to hide his/her identity as a judge]).
Third, the judge asks whether he/she may participate in collecting items from the congregation to be given as gifts in the foreign country and, more specifically, whether he/she may “ask children to draw pictures” as gifts to the children they will visit. In the Committee’s view, although the judge may not solicit items of value, such as eyeglasses, to be given as gifts (see e.g. Opinion 10-157 [judge may not solicit or collect donations of food items]), the judge may nonetheless participate in requesting drawings from children in the congregation, as this is not akin to the inappropriate solicitation of funds and is thus ethically permissible.
Finally, the judge notes that their hosts in the foreign country will not only conduct background checks on team members, but will also prepare an informational booklet about team members for the children’s parents. The judge asks whether he/she may permit his/her judicial title to appear in the booklet. As previously noted, the inquiring judge need not conceal his/her identity as a judge while participating in this permissible extra-judicial activity (see Opinions 10-157; 06-105). As it appears that the information booklet will not be used to solicit funds for the trip but will, instead, be used to provide information to participating parents in the host country, the judge may permit use of his/her judicial title.
1 Thus, the judge will not participate in “[n]ormal” fund-raising procedures for such trips, such as “asking people within the [religious institution] for donations to cover flight expenses, and sending letters to people [he/she] know[s] outside the [institution] soliciting funds.”
2 The judge should determine the purpose of any meeting about the trip he/she will attend, and avoid those involving, in whole or in part, solicitation of donations.