January 29, 2015
Digest: A judge may accept a gift valued under $150 from a local sports team, where neither the team nor its interests have come before the judge and are not likely to do so.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(D)(5); 100.4(D)(5)(h); Opinions 12-136; 09-209.
A local minor league sports team is offering free tickets and parking vouchers for a game of one’s choice to certain members of the community, including the inquiring town judge. The inquiring judge indicates that the team is a for-profit entity that plays its home games in a stadium built by and in a neighboring town, and that the judge has not presided over, nor is likely to preside over, a matter involving either the team or the town. The total value of the eight tickets and two parking vouchers is less than $150. The judge asks whether he/she may accept the gift.
A judge must avoid always even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge’s acceptance of a gift is subject to the requirements of section 100.4[D] of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. In addition to the specific categories of permissible gifts, a judge may accept (22 NYCRR 100.4[D][h]):
any other gift, bequest, favor or loan, only if: the donor is not a party or other person who has come or is likely to come or whose interests have come or are likely to come before the judge; and if its value exceeds $150.00, the judge reports it in the same manner as the judge reports compensation in section 100.4(H).
The Committee has advised that a judge may accept two free passes to a county fair from the sponsoring local not-for-profit organization, provided the donor and its interests have not come, and are not likely to come, before the judge (see Opinion 12-136). Similarly, the Committee has advised that “a board of judges may accept gift certificates awarded pursuant to a restaurant promotion as long as no member judge has presided or is likely to be presiding over a matter in which the restaurant was or is a party” (Opinion 09-209).
Accordingly, the Committee concludes that the inquiring judge may accept the free tickets and parking vouchers that are offered as part of a community-wide promotional marketing campaign, provided that the donor and its interests have not come nor are likely to come before the judge.