Opinion 17-55


May 4, 2017


Digest:         A judge may not directly or indirectly solicit property owners, car rental agencies, or food merchants on behalf of the Red Cross. However, the judge may use his/her skills as a logistics expert to plan and to manage supplies or donations as they are received and may also purchase items for disaster relief with a donated debit card, provided the judge does not solicit such a card. These principles apply without geographic limitation.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i)-(ii), (iv); Opinions 16-17; 15-109; 14-153; 14-127; 10-157; 09-28; 07-17; 06-69; 01-90; 89-128.




The inquiring part-time judge has several questions about volunteering with the Red Cross as a “disaster response worker” and “logistics specialist, ordering and managing supplies.”


1. Prior to any disaster, may the judge:

a. Contact property owners “about potential use by the Red Cross during a local disaster (temporary shelters, offices and warehouses), visit and inspect, make notes, and provide owners with example contracts”? Although the judge would not request donations, he/she “would be laying the groundwork for relationships” that could result in donations.

b. Contact local branches of national car rental agencies to learn about their discount policies in case of disaster?

c. “Contact preparers and sellers of food, laying the ground work for feeding 200 on short notice”? Such services “are normally contracted, but outright donations or subsidized rates are possible.”

2. During a disaster, may the judge:

a. Purchase food with a donated debit card?

b. Contact property owners about use of their space? Continue with a contract should the owner offer to partially or fully donate the space?

c. Contact sellers of food concerning the needs of the Red Cross? Contract for the supply of food at full or reduced rates? Pick up donated food?

3. Is the answer different within the judge’s county, or outside New York?


A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2), must always act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]), and must not lend judicial prestige to advance private interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]). Also, a judge must not personally participate in soliciting funds or other fund-raising activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i]) nor permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][iv]). However, a judge “may assist” a not-for-profit organization “in planning fund-raising” (22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i]) and may attend the organization’s fund-raising events as a regular attendee (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][ii] [describing limitations on being a speaker or guest of honor]).


Because a judge may assist an organization in planning its fund-raising (22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i]), a judge may serve behind-the-scenes on a planning committee for a charity’s fund-raising walk and may perform tasks to set up for the walk, subject to certain limitations (see Opinion 07-17; see also Opinion 09-28 [judge may assist a police sports team with the logistics of an event to raise funds for a charitable organization]). We have also advised that a judge may suggest names of potential co-chairs of a law school fund-raising event, as long as his/her name is not used to recruit them (see Opinion 06-69), and may assign and supervise the course marshals at a fund-raising golf tournament as long as he/she is not identified as a judge on his/her badge or in event materials (see Opinion 01-90).


When it comes to contacting actual or prospective donors, however, a judge “may not personally solicit items for clothing or food drives, or otherwise solicit non-cash or in-kind contributions” (Opinion 16-17). Thus, a judge may not: allow a bar association to place a collection container for used clothing in a courtroom (see Opinion 14-153); solicit books for use as a sentencing tool from publishers or booksellers (see Opinion 14-127); or act as coordinator of a Boy Scouts food drive (see Opinion 89-128). Likewise, a judge “may not distribute flyers at the local grocery store asking customers to donate food items or collect donations of either food or cash” (Opinion 10–157); may not indirectly solicit in-kind donations by “promoting” a food or clothing drive to his/her congregation (Opinion 16-17); and “should not deliver tee shirts to sponsors after the fund-raiser because this would create an appearance that the judge has impermissibly participated in personally raising funds” (Opinion 09-28).


Once donations are received, a judge may help pack, store, and distribute the donated items (see Opinion 10-157). Indeed, a judge may personally “deliver food baskets to needy families and drive [his/her] personal vehicle bearing judicial license plates when doing so” and serve donated food to guests at the organization’s lunch for needy families (id.).


Applying these principles, we conclude the inquiring judge may not directly or indirectly solicit the owners of real property, the car rental agencies or the preparers and sellers of food (see e.g. Opinions 16-17; 10-157). As described, the proposed contacts with prospective donors would create an appearance of impropriety (see generally 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.4[C][3][b][i]). This prohibition applies both locally and out-of-state, as neither the rules nor our opinions provide for any geographical limitation (see Opinion 15-109).


However, after a non-judge working with the Red Cross has made contact with donors, the judge may use his/her skills as a logistics expert to plan and to manage such supplies as they are received (see generally Opinion 10-157).


The judge may also purchase food or other goods for disaster relief with a donated debit card, provided the judge does not solicit such a card.