May 5, 2022
Digest: A judge may accept an invitation to speak at a free community celebration of Pride month, provided the event is not a fund-raiser, and subject to generally applicable limitations on judicial speech and conduct. The judge may also permit the organization to use the judge’s photo and title in social media promotions advertising the free event.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(C); 100.3(B)(6); 100.3(B)(8); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); Opinions 18-91; 17-94; 17-12; 15-133.
A full-time judge asks if they may accept a not-for-profit organization’s invitation to speak about the judge’s experience as a member of a minority group at a free community celebration of Pride month1 and permit the organization to use the judge’s photo and title in social media promotions of the event. The judge states that “no money is being raised at the event.”
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]). A judge may participate in extrajudicial activities provided they are not incompatible with judicial office and they do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially, detract from the dignity of judicial office, or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]-). A judge’s participation is also subject to all applicable limitations on judicial speech and conduct, including the rule against impermissible ex parte communications (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[B]) and the rule prohibiting any public comment on a pending or impending proceeding of any court in the United States or its territories (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[B]).
In general, judges may publicly discuss their professional and personal background and experience (see e.g. Opinions 17-12 [judge may speak about experience in becoming the first judge of a particular gender and ethnicity in the history of a specific judicial district]; 15-133 [judge may speak at a foreign consulate about experiences as a judge of a particular gender and ethnicity]). Moreover, “a judge need not conceal his/her judicial status when engaging in permissible extra-judicial activities” (see Opinion 17-94).
Here, the judge has been asked to share their experiences as a judge and as a member of a particular minority group at a non-fund-raising community event hosted by a not-for-profit organization. “Speaking at [such an event] about the judge’s personal experience in becoming a jurist is clearly compatible with judicial office, and unlikely to cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s impartiality, detract from the dignity of judicial office, or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties” (Opinion 15-133; see also Opinion 17-94 [provided the event is not a fund-raiser, a judge may participate as guest of honor at not-for-profit organization’s live concert which recognizes local women who have empowered, advocated or blazed the trail for other women]).
As this free community event does not appear to be a fund-raiser, we conclude that the judge may accept the invitation to speak, subject to generally applicable limitations on judicial speech and conduct, and may also permit their name, likeness, and title to be used in social media promotions advertising the event (see Opinions 18-91; 17-94).
1 Pride month typically celebrates a wide range of sexual and gender identities and gender expressions, often including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual identities (LGBTQIA+).