June 20, 2019
Digest: A judge may be the plenary speaker at a non-fund-raising event sponsored by a not-for-profit homelessness services network, where the judge will discuss religious/spiritual issues, mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, and historical/moral progress in community responses to homelessness and will not address funding or government support for the homeless.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.3(B)(8); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(B); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(I) - (iv); Opinions 12-74; 09-79; 99-77; 99-21; 93-108.
A full-time judge asks if he/she may be the plenary speaker at a symposium sponsored by a not-for-profit homelessness services network. The judge would discuss religious/spiritual issues, mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, and historical/moral progress in community responses to homelessness. The event is not a fund-raiser, and the judge would neither solicit funds nor discuss funding or government support for the homeless.
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge may speak, lecture, teach and otherwise participate in extra-judicial activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[B]), provided such activities are not incompatible with judicial office and do not (1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge; (2) detract from the dignity of judicial office; or (3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]-). Judges must, however, abide by generally applicable limitations on judicial speech, such as the public comment rule (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[B] [prohibiting “any public comment” on pending or impending cases in the United States or its territories]) and the restrictions on participating in fund-raising activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][I]-[iv]).
We have said the community benefits from having judges take an active part in community affairs whenever possible, including, for example, in community efforts to prevent juvenile delinquency (see Opinion 99-21); prevent and reduce underage drinking (see Opinion 12-74); discourage driving while intoxicated and the use of illegal drugs (see Opinion 09-79); and reduce teen violence and crime in the community (see Opinions 99-77; 93-108).
Here, similarly, the symposium is clearly intended to help address, assist and reduce homelessness in the judge’s community and is not likely to be perceived as a law enforcement program (see e.g. Opinion 12-74). We see no conflict with the judge’s judicial duties. For example, the topics do not appear unduly controversial (see e.g. Opinion 93-108) and are unlikely to detract from the dignity of judicial office (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]). The event is not a fund-raiser or other activity incompatible with judicial office (see e.g. Opinion 93-108; 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][ii] [judge may not be “a speaker” at an organization’s fund-raising events]). Thus, we conclude the judge may be the plenary speaker at the symposium.