September 14, 1993
Digest: A judges’ association may engage in activities which express the group’s position, including the development of educational workshops with other groups, and producing letters, articles and public forums on the appointment or election of judges. Such an association may not support an individual for judicial office, nor may the association engage in fundraising in any of its activities or in the fundraising events of other groups.
Rules: 22 NYCRR §§100.2(a) and (c); 100.4; 100.5(b)(2); and 100.7.
This opinion responds to the inquiry of a full-time judge on behalf of a judges’ association. The following questions on certain activities have been put to the Committee: “(1) [w]riting letters of support on behalf of candidates for judicial office or incumbents; (2) [p]ublicly expressing [the association]’s position through letters to public officials, newspaper articles, or at public forums regarding such issues as the appointment versus the election of judges; (3) [c]reating a scholarship fund for needy law students and raising funds for such a fund through social or cultural events either alone or in conjunction with other groups; (4) [o]rganizing professional and non-professional legal education workshops either alone or in partnership with other groups and raising funds for such events through social and cultural events either alone or in conjunction with other groups; and, (5) [p]articipating in a joint installation of officers ceremony with [a bar association] which would take place during a scheduled fundraising function organized by the . . . [b]ar [a]ssociation.”
Three queries are addressed by reference to the Rules of the Chief Administrator of the Courts, 22 NYCRR §§100.2(a) and (c), 100.4, 100.5(b)(2), and 100.7(c). On the first question the Committee notes that §100.7(c) prohibits any participation by a judge in any campaign for political office, except for his or her own campaign for judicial office. Letters of support written on behalf of judicial candidates would be tantamount to an endorsement of such candidates and therefore are prohibited.
The second inquiry is answered in the affirmative. Section 100.4 permits judges to “speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice” so long as these activities do not cast doubt on the judge’s capacity to decide impartially any issue that may come before the judge. Thus, the judges’ association may express its positions through letters to public officials, newspaper articles, or at public forums, except political forums, regarding such issues as the appointment versus the election of judges.
The association’s third question broaches the creation of a scholarship fund using cultural and/or social events as a medium to raise money either alone or with other groups. The Rules of the Chief Administrator expressly forbid such activity. In pertinent part §100.5(b)(2) states: “No judge shall solicit funds for any . . . fraternal or civic organization or use or permit the use of the prestige of the office for that purpose . . .”
May a judges’ association organize legal education workshops alone or with other groups? This fourth proposition is coupled with the possibility of fundraising at such events. As judges may not engage in fundraising, the association may not participate in such activities either alone or with other groups if they are fundraising events.
The final issue advanced by this inquiry is whether the judges’ association may participate in an installation ceremony, a fundraiser, with a bar association. The explicit prohibition of solicitation by judges applies also to the judges’ participation in this event, though it is organized by the bar association. Section 100.5(b)(2) forbids the use of a judge’s name in connection with any solicitation of funds. Moreover, the situation presented goes beyond the permission granted by §100.5(b)(2) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator, which states that “[n]othing in this Part shall be deemed to prohibit a judge from being a speaker or guest of honor at a bar association function.”