June 20, 2019
Digest: A judge may organize a financial educational seminar for fellow judges, featuring a speaker from a not-for-profit entity, provided the judge carefully avoids lending the prestige of judicial office to advance private interests.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2 (A); 100.2(C); Opinions 11-118; 09-174; 08-188.
A full-time judge asks if he/she may organize a brown bag lunch-and-learn financial education seminar for his/her colleagues at a courthouse. The speaker will be a representative of the Society for Financial Awareness, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, whose mission is to provide financial education to consumers. The proposed seminar is free, and the judge stresses there would be “absolutely no selling” at the event.
A judge must always avoid any appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always act in a manner to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge must not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance private interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]).
We have said a judge may invite a speaker to address judges about financial planning and retirement at a bar association luncheon, subject to some cautions if the speaker is in the business of selling such services (see Opinion 08-188, as modified by Opinion 09-174). Where the sponsoring judge will make clear that no one is required to speak to any vendor and that the judicial section “is not endorsing or supporting any financial product” (id.), the judge may also permit the speaker to “refer briefly to the services he/she can provide and to the presence of other vendors and their services” (Opinions 09-174 fn 1, modifying Opinion 08-188). However, permitting the speaker to “elaborate further and otherwise promote such services in his/her official remarks to the assembled judges” is impermissible (id.; 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]).
Here, the proposed lunch-and–learn financial education seminar does not present the same concerns about appearing to promote private interests, as the speaker represents a not-for-profit financial education organization, rather than a business enterprise. Thus the judge may organize the seminar, if he/she carefully avoids lending the prestige of judicial office to advance any private interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]).
Finally, as the proposed program is strictly educational, and will not involve any commercial, fund-raising, or political activity, we see no ethical impediment to the seminar taking place at a courthouse, provided administrative approval is obtained (see Opinion 11-118).