Opinion 13-40

March 14, 2013


Digest:         A judge may serve on an award selection committee for an award ceremony and reception for members of the legal profession, where the event is hosted at a law school and is co-sponsored by certain bar associations and local business entities.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); Opinions 13-20; 12-167; 10-164; 09-238; 08-193; 08-175; 08-92; 02-118.


         The inquiring judge states that a local law school is hosting an award ceremony and reception for members of the legal profession. The event is co-sponsored by certain bar associations and local business entities, including a newspaper, an accounting firm, an assisted living facility, and a bank. The judge notes that there will be no charge for admission, and the awards have no monetary value. The titles of the proposed awards for attorneys and law students suggest that the awards are intended to recognize leadership or excellence in certain areas, including in general categories of legal practice that may be relevant to the sponsors (e.g., corporate law and elder law). The judge asks if he/she may serve on the award selection committee, and notes that the other proposed members are judges, professors, and practicing attorneys.

         A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). Although a judge must not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]), a judge may nonetheless engage in extra-judicial activities as long as doing so does 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 and is not incompatible with judicial office (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A][1]-[3]).

         The Committee has advised that a judge may serve as chair of a bar association committee that nominates association members for various professional and community awards (see Opinion 13-20), may write a letter nominating an individual or an organization to receive an award (see Opinions 10-164 [employee for probation department award]; 08-175 [not-for-profit organization for bar association award]; 08-92 [former colleague for professional award]; 02-118 [attorney for bar association award]), and may assist a not-for-profit organization in selecting scholarship recipients (see Opinions 09-238; 08-193).

          The fact that the award ceremony is co-sponsored by certain local businesses does not, without more, render the judge’s participation impermissible (see Opinion 12-167 [a judge may speak, without compensation, at a free continuing legal education program co-sponsored by a local hospital and a corporate sponsor and held at the corporate sponsor’s offices, although the judge “must not endorse or otherwise advance the private interests of the corporate sponsor, and the judge should not participate if the [host] is a party in a contested, adversarial proceeding that is presently being litigated before the judge”).

         Accordingly, under the facts presented, the inquiring judge may serve on the award selection committee.