Opinion 12-86

April 26, 2012


Digest:         Under the circumstances presented, a judges’ association may permit non-judicial co-sponsors of an educational conference to raise funds from foundations, bar associations, law schools, and members of the bar.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i),(iv); Opinions 09-200; 08-106; 06-67; 04-15; 01-29 (Vol. XIX); 00-98 (Vol. XIX); 99-09 (Vol. XVII).


         The inquiring judge chairs a judge’s association planning committee for an upcoming educational conference regarding the past, present and future of a particular court. The planning committee includes both judges who preside in the court and lawyers who practice in the court. The inquirer advises that the event will be open to the public. According to the judge, the planning committee has been working with a bar association and a law school “as partners in planning for the conference.” The judge asks whether the judges’ association may, as a program co-sponsor, permit its non-judicial co-sponsors “to raise funds from foundations, bar associations, law schools, and members of the bar.”

         A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge may assist a not-for-profit organization in “planning fund-raising” (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i]) but must not personally participate in the solicitation of funds, use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i], [iv]), or otherwise lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]).

         The Committee has advised that a judge may speak or participate as a panelist at legal education programs co-sponsored by bar associations, not-for-profit corporations, law firms, or for-profit corporations, subject to certain limitations (see Opinions 09-200; 08-106; 04-15). Moreover, a judge may attend such programs even if sponsored or underwritten by commercial entities (see Opinion 08-106; 99-09 [Vol. XVII]).

         Although a judge may not in any way solicit such sponsorship or underwriting (see Opinions 08-106; 99-09 [Vol. XVII]; 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i], [iv]), the Committee has advised that a “friends committee” consisting entirely of non-judges may solicit commercial sponsorship of educational programs offered at a judicial convention (see Opinion 00-98 [Vol. XIX]).1 Similarly, the Committee has advised that an administrative judge may seek co-sponsors such as bar associations and a law school for a conference on access to justice issues, where the co-sponsorship will involve collaboration in matters such as planning of the various events, partaking substantively in specific programs, or filling another programmatic need (see Opinion 01-29 [Vol. XIX] [distinguishing prior opinions]): 


Clearly, seeking the “active participation of all segments of the justice community” in a conference dedicated to exploring access to justice issues is an entirely appropriate endeavor. The bringing together of such entities in a comprehensive way, obviously involves interchanges of ideas, extensive planning and an agreed upon division of effort and focus. That division of responsibility carries with it a concomitant division of costs. And to reach out and engage in such a process which results in such a sharing of costs does not, in our view, constitute a personal participation in the solicitation of funds, or the misuse of the prestige of judicial office, as contemplated in the Rules.

         Here, as in Opinion 01-29 (Vol. XIX), it appears the educational conference relates to the legal system and the administration of justice and that the non-judicial co-sponsors who will do the actual fund-raising (a bar association and law school) are already involved in the event’s overall planning. Moreover, it appears the non-judicial co-sponsors will be performing the same function as the “friends committee” in Opinion 00-98 (Vol. XIX). Therefore, under these circumstances, the Committee believes it permissible for the judges’ association to permit its non-judicial co-sponsors to raise funds from others involved in the legal community (see Opinions 01-29 [Vol. XIX]; 00-98 [Vol. XIX]).


     1 The Committee has said “there is a substantive difference between soliciting funds to enhance judicial education and soliciting gifts of wine or money to enhance a judges’ dinner or buy door prizes for judges” or otherwise asking lawyers to “solicit gifts for the private enjoyment of the association’s members” (Opinion 06-67).