October 29, 2020
Digest: A full-time judge may serve on a bar association’s internal nominating committee, to consider and recommend individuals who are seeking board and officer seats within the bar association.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.0(A); 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(C)(3); 100.5(A)(1); 100.5(A)(1)(e); Opinions 19-151; 13-166/13-166(A); 13-40; 13-20; 12-93; 12-58; 10-164; 09-90; 08-92; 02-118.
A full-time judge asks if it is ethically permissible to serve on a bar association’s internal nominating committee to consider and recommend individuals seeking board and officer seats within the association. The nominating committee reviews the qualifications of interested individuals and makes recommendations to the association’s full membership for them to vote upon. Any individual can run for a position, even if they are not recommended by the nominating committee, and there are often several individuals running for the same position. The bar association members are free to vote for whichever candidate they choose.1
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 must not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance any private interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]), but may generally engage in extra-judicial activities so long as those activities are not incompatible with judicial office and do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s impartiality, detract from the dignity of judicial office, or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]-). A judge may ordinarily be a member or officer of an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice, subject to certain limitations (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C]; see also Opinion 12-93 [“participation in bar associations and other legal organizations is to be encouraged”]).
We have distinguished between a judge’s involvement in public elections2 and internal elections limited to members of not-for-profit entities (see Opinions 19-151; 13-166/13-166[A]; 12-58; 09-90). We have also said a judge may serve as chair of a bar association committee that nominates association members for professional and community awards (see Opinion 13-20); may nominate a probation department employee for an award that recognizes an employee who significantly assisted the court in the administration of justice (see Opinion 10-164); and may write a letter to support a local bar association’s nomination of an attorney for a bar association award (see Opinion 02-118) or to support the nomination of a former colleague for a professional award (see Opinion 08-92). Furthermore, in Opinion 13-40, we said that a judge may serve on an award selection committee for an awards ceremony hosted at a law school and co-sponsored by local business entities.
Similarly, we conclude it is ethically permissible for a full-time judge to serve on a bar association’s internal nominating committee. The position is not subject to public election and unlikely to create any appearance of impropriety.
1Although we and others may refer to such individuals as “candidates,” we note that they are not “candidates” within the meaning of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (see 22 NYCRR 100.0[A] [“A ‘candidate’ is a person seeking selection for or retention in public office by election.”] [emphasis added]).
2A judge must not “directly or indirectly engage in any political activity,” including “publicly endorsing or publicly opposing (other than by running against) [a] candidate for public office,” unless an exception applies (22 NYCRR 100.5[A]; 100.5[A][e]).