December 12, 2019
Digest: A part-time judge may serve on the local tourism board, whose function is to take “all reasonable steps” to promote the city, provided the judge does not solicit funds or use the prestige of the office for that purpose.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.3(A); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(C)(2)(a); 100.4(C)(3)(a)(i); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(iv); 100.6(B)(1); 100.6(B)(4); Opinions 15-123; 11-70; 02-82; 92-116; 90-09.
A part-time city court judge asks if he/she may serve on the city’s tourism board. As described, the board appears to be a governmental body created by statute, rather than a not-for-profit entity. The board is tasked with taking “all reasonable steps” to market the city “as a destination for overnight and day trip visitors” by using city funds designated for this purpose and board members are appointed by either the mayor or the city council.
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]). Although the judge’s judicial duties take precedence over all his/her other activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[A]), a judge may nonetheless engage in extra-judicial activities that are not incompatible with judicial office, subject to certain limitations (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]-). A judge must not lend the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising or membership solicitation or to advance any private interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]; 100.4[C][b][iv]). A part-time judge, unlike a full-time judge, may accept public employment as long as it is compatible with judicial office and does not interfere with the proper performance of the judge’s duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.6[B]) and may accept appointment to a governmental position that concerns issues of fact or policy unrelated to the improvement of the law, the legal system and the administration of justice (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][a]; 100.6[B]).
Clearly, a part-time judge may not serve as a county’s director of tourism where the judge would be responsible for selling, advertising, and soliciting funds from local businesses to finance promotional brochures (see Opinion 90-09). In contrast, where participation does not involve any responsibility for soliciting funds, a part-time judge may serve as curator of a town museum (see Opinion 11-70); as a member of governmental advisory committee on services for senior citizens (see Opinion 15-123); as a director of a local merchants’ association whose purpose is to promote local tourism and commerce (see Opinion 02-82); or as president of the board of a County Chambers of Commerce (see Opinion 92-116).
Here, the mission of the city’s tourism board seems roughly analogous to that of a merchants’ association or chamber of commerce (see Opinions 02-82; 92-116), except that it is apparently a governmental body rather than a not-for-profit organization. For a part-time judge, however, this distinction is largely immaterial (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][a]; 100.6[B]). Nothing in the inquiry suggests the tourism board or its interests would ordinarily come before the judge (cf. 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][a][i]), and the statutory funding arrangement makes it highly unlikely that the judge would be involved in the solicitation of funds or fund-raising activities. Accordingly, we conclude this part-time judge may serve as a member of the local tourism board, provided he/she does not solicit funds or allow the prestige of judicial office to be used for that purpose.