Opinion 18-39

March 29, 2018


Digest:         A full-time judge may serve on the board of trustees of a not-for-profit firefighters museum, and his/her judicial title may appear on the entity’s letterhead if similar titles appear with other board members. He/she may not use the prestige of judicial office to raise funds or solicit members.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(C)(3)(a)(I)-(ii); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(I), (iv); Opinions 17-134; 16-179; 16-01; 14-77; 12-80; 12-22; 12-14; 09-170; 01-42; 97-10.


         A full-time judge asks if he/she may serve on the board of an independent not-for-profit firefighters museum and appear on the museum’s letterhead with his/her judicial title. The museum’s purpose is to showcase the history of a local fire department; increase fire safety awareness; “generate interest in firefighting in general and firefighting for the ____ Fire Department in particular;” establish a self-sustaining museum; and collect and restore local fire department artifacts for display.

         A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge may participate in extra-judicial activities that do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge; detract from the dignity of judicial office; or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties and are not incompatible with judicial office (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A][1]-[3]). A full-time judge may serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of a charitable organization not conducted for profit, subject to certain limitations, unless it is likely that the organization (I) will be engaged in proceedings that ordinarily would come before the judge (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][a][I]) or (ii) will be engaged regularly in adversary proceedings in any court (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][a][ii]). A judge must not personally participate in the solicitation of funds but may assist the organization in planning fund-raising (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][I]). In addition, the Rules provide in relevant part that (22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][iv]):

(b) A judge as an officer, director, trustee ... (iv) shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising or membership solicitation, but may be listed as an officer, director or trustee of such an organization. Use of an organization’s regular letterhead for fund-raising or membership solicitation does not violate this provision, provided the letterhead lists only the judge’s name and office or other position in the organization, and, if comparable designations are listed for other persons, the judge’s judicial designation.

         We have advised that a judge may volunteer for a not-for-profit organization devoted to honoring fallen police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel, where the judge’s proposed volunteer work will relate only to firefighters and medical personnel and not to police officers (see Opinion 14-77). Here, too, we believe the judge may serve on the firefighting museum’s board of trustees (see e.g. Opinions 01-42; 97-10). Clearly, the judge may be listed on the museum’s letterhead along with other trustees, and his/her judicial designation may be listed if comparable designations are used for other trustees (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][iv]; Opinion 09-170).

         In addition, although the judge may generally and indirectly encourage interest and appreciation for the local fire department by serving on the museum’s board, the judge must not permit the prestige of judicial office to be used for fund-raising or membership solicitation, including recruitment for the specific fire department showcased in the museum (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][iv]; Opinions 16-179; 12-22). Thus, for example, the judge may not be the author or signatory on any letter soliciting funds or soliciting individuals to join the museum, to undertake firefighting as a career, or to join the local fire department (see e.g. Opinions 17-134; 16-01; 12-14; cf. Opinion 12-80 [judge may not serve on the board of directors of a not-for-profit “Law Enforcement Exploring” program which is designed to promote law enforcement careers]).