June 12, 2014
Digest: A judge who is a retired law enforcement officer may join a national not-for-profit fraternal organization for retired and active law enforcement officers to take advantage of discounted medical and life insurance and retirement benefits for which the judge is eligible due to his/her former employment.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(C)(3); Opinions 14-124; 13-181; 13-134; 12-88; 08-161; 04-137; 06-170; 02-81; 99-137 (Vol. XVIII); 98-100 (Vol. XVII); 94-85 (Vol. XII); 94-76 (Vol. XII); 92-112 (Vol. X); 89-28 (Vol. III).
The inquiring part-time judge, who is a retired law enforcement officer, asks whether he/she may maintain membership in the American Association of State Troopers “in order to collect benefits, such as reduced medical and life insurance, retirement, etc.” The entity describes itself as “a national fraternal organization composed of active and retired state troopers, highway patrol officers, and state police officers.”1 It is “not a labor union or collective bargaining organization.” Instead, the organization provides the following mission statement:
The Association's purposes specifically include development of strong bonds of nationwide trooper camaraderie, providing benefits for all state troopers, highway patrol officers, and state police officers, as well as their families, promotion of professional law enforcement training and educational opportunities, securing financial support to subsidize scholarship stipends for members' dependents, and involvement in public safety and consumer information campaigns.
The judge states that, other than paying dues, he/she “has no association with the operation or policies” of the entity.
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]). A judge may engage in extra-judicial activities that 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]-). Subject to these and other limitations, a judge may be a member or serve as an officer, director or non-legal advisor of a civic, fraternal or charitable organization not conducted for profit (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C]).
The Committee has previously advised that a judge who regularly presides over criminal matters in which members of the local Fraternal Order of Police appear must not be a member or officer of the organization, even if the organization welcomes both “active and retired police officers and prosecutors” as well as “judges and their personally appointed court employees” as members (Opinion 13-134). Similarly, the Committee has advised that a judge may not be a member of a county police association “which consists of active and retired police officers” (Opinion 94-85 [Vol. XII]); an association of active police officers and chiefs (see Opinion 92-112 [Vol. X]); or the county Deputy Sheriffs' Association (see Opinion 99-137 [Vol. XVIII]). The Committee has explained that a judge’s membership in an organization with an “explicit and exclusive law enforcement orientation” (Opinion 98-100 [Vol. XVII]) “is incompatible with judicial office because it could cause the judge’s impartiality to reasonably be questioned” (Opinion 13-134).
The Committee has likewise advised that a judge may not attend and participate in the business meetings of law enforcement organizations (see Opinions 13-134; 99-137 [Vol. XVIII]; 89-28 [Vol. III]), or accept even an “honorary” membership in a local sheriffs’ or deputy sheriffs’ association (see Opinions 12-88; 99-137 [Vol. XVIII]; see also Opinion 98-100 [Vol. XVII] [judge may not serve as an honorary director of a law enforcement foundation which seeks to “support law enforcement departments financially and with equipment”]).
A judge may nonetheless attend purely social functions of such law enforcement related organizations (see Opinions 06-170; 99-137 [Vol. XVIII]; 94-76 [Vol. XII]; 89-28 [Vol. III]), attend their fund-raising events (see Opinions 14-124; 13-134), and make charitable contributions to them (see Opinions 13-134; 08-161; 02-81). Moreover, the Committee has advised that a judge “may maintain membership in associations or organizations of retired or former law enforcement officials” (Opinion 99-137 [Vol. XVIII] [emphasis added]; see also Opinion 89-28 [Vol. III]).
Here, although membership in the organization is not restricted solely to retired law enforcement officers, the Committee notes that it is a national fraternal organization, rather than a state or local one; and the inquirer’s sole purpose in joining is to obtain insurance and retirement benefits for which he/she is eligible due to his/her former employment.2 Under the specific circumstances presented, the Committee believes the judge’s proposed membership is not likely to cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]) or otherwise interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]), provided the judge’s involvement with the organization is strictly limited to taking advantage of discounted medical and life insurance and retirement benefits.
Accordingly, the inquiring judge may join the American Association of State Troopers and pay dues or assessments as necessary to maintain eligibility for discounted medical and life insurance and retirement benefits. The inquirer also may attend purely social functions of the association but must not attend the organization’s business meetings or serve as an officer of the organization (see Opinions 13-134; 99-137 [Vol. XVIII]; 94-85 [Vol. XII]; 89-28 [Vol. III]).
1 A review of the organization’s website confirms that the organization is national in scope. It was founded in Florida, and the current executive board consists of two active law enforcement officers and two retired law enforcement officers from Alabama, Texas, and Virginia. The board also includes “State Directors” for 26 different states, including New York.
2 The Committee notes that it has, subject to certain limitations, previously permitted judges to extend their association with a former employer temporarily, for the sole purpose of avoiding a gap in health insurance coverage (see Opinions 13-181; 04-137).