January 29, 2015
Digest: A full-time judge who asked his/her former law firm in writing to immediately remove the judge’s name from the firm’s signage, letterhead, and other materials need not take any further action.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(G); Opinions 14-114; 14-130; 12-61; 11-35; 04-137; 98-92; 89-136.
The inquiring judge, who ceased practicing law on becoming a full-time judge, has become aware his/her former law firm “may still be using my name in some of its printed materials including the firm’s letterhead.” After reviewing prior opinions, the judge promptly called his/her former law firm about the issue and “forwarded a ‘cease and desist’ letter” to the former firm, alerting them to the ethics issue, “and asking them to take all necessary measures to remove my name from the building signage and from any and all printed or displayed materials that the firm may generate.” The judge asks if he/she must take further action.
A judge must always avoid 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 full-time judge may not practice law (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[G]).
The Committee has previously advised that a newly elected full-time judge must terminate his/her law practice and remove his/her name from the law firm’s masthead before assuming judicial office (Opinion 89-136).1
Here, of course, the inquiring full-time judge is not practicing law, but is understandably concerned that his/her former law firm’s continued use of the judge’s name may create the improper appearance the judge is practicing law.2 He/she says a letter was sent to his/her former law firm requesting them to “immediately cease and desist” using the judge’s name, and asking them to “immediately remove my name” from the law firm’s signage, letterhead, and other materials.
Beyond this, in the Committee’s view, the judge “need take no further action, as the judge cannot control” what the judge’s former law firm chooses to do in response to the judge’s letter, and the Committee “has no authority to advise or direct” the judge’s former law firm with respect to its actions in this matter (see Opinion 11-35; see also e.g. Opinion 14-114 [once town justice has raised his/her concerns about improper allocations to the court budget with the town attorney and his/her administrative judge, he/she need not take any further action]). Accordingly, the Committee concludes the inquiring judge need not take any further action with respect to this matter.
1 For the purposes of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, a judge assumes office on taking and filing his/her oath of office (see Opinions 04-137; 98-92).
2 Although a judge need not formally object to the independent behavior of third parties in every instance (see e.g. Opinion 14-130), the Committee has advised that a judge has an obligation to object in writing when a not-for-profit organization uses the judge’s name and/or photograph for fund-raising purposes (see e.g. Opinion 12-61).