April 29, 2021
Digest: A judge may speak at a bar association’s fund-raising event and introduce a video concerning a particular bar association initiative, even though others will solicit funds for that specific initiative in the course of the evening, provided that the judge does not personally solicit funds.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i)-(ii), (iv); Opinions 13-73; 06-117; 98-50.
A judge asks if they may speak at a bar association’s annual fund-raising dinner to introduce a video clip highlighting the bar association’s “Women’s History Project” initiative. We understand the video does not itself solicit funds but would highlight members’ personal stories for educational purposes. The judge notes that, at some point in the program, other individuals will make “a fundraising appeal to continue the work of the History Project.”
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge must not personally participate in the solicitation of funds (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][i]) or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising or membership solicitation (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][iv]). Although a judge ordinarily “may not be a speaker ... at an organization’s fund-raising events,” an exception applies if the organization is a “court employee organization, bar association or law school” (22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][ii]).
Applying these principles, we have said a judge may be a speaker at a bar association’s fund-raiser, whether or not previously announced (see e.g. Opinions 13-73; 06-117; 98-50; 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][ii]). However, the judge may not personally solicit funds (see e.g. Opinions 06-117; 98-50; 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][i]).
Here, too, the judge may introduce a non-fund-raising video concerning a particular bar association initiative at the bar association’s fund-raiser, but may not personally solicit funds.
This result does not change merely because others will solicit funds for that initiative in the course of the evening. We trust the judge will take whatever steps may be reasonable under the circumstances to ensure that the judge’s presentation is not so closely associated with the fund-raising appeal as to create an appearance that the judge is personally soliciting contributions.