September 5, 1996
Digest: It is ethically permissible for judges to participate in a judicial education program dealing with land use issues which is sponsored and conducted by the National Judicial College even if the funding for such program is a grant from a national home builder trade association.
Rule: 22 NYCRR 100.4(H)
An Administrative Judge of the court system informs the Committee that the National Judicial Colleges ("College") in Reno Nevada, has offered to present a continuing judicial education program in New York for up to 40 judges, dealing with land use issues. The program is developed and implemented by the College. All program expenses including travel, lodging and expenses of faculty and attending judges will be paid by the College out of grant money provided by a non-profit trade association whose membership includes home builders, contractors and others in the housing industry located throughout the United States, including New York.
The inquiring Administrative Judge asks whether, in view of the fact that the source of the funding for the program is a trade association whose membership includes businesses in New York, is it permissible to accept the offer on behalf of the Unified Court System. Further, in light of the source of the funding, would it be proper for New York judges to attend the program?
In the opinion of the Committee the answer to both questions is in the affirmative. The Committee sees no ethical impediment to the Administrative Judge accepting the offer from the National Judicial College nor to New York judges attending the program under the circumstances described. The grant by the trade association to the College may be likened to a grant to an educational institution which retains full discretion to choose faculty and determine the content of the course of study. Here, the intended program is under the discretion and control of the National Judicial College, not the entity that is providing the funding; and, further, the selection of those who may attend the program rests with the court system.
Section 100.4(H) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct provides that a judge may be reimbursed for expenses arising out of a permissible extra-judicial activity "if the source of such payments does not give the appearance of influencing the judge's performance of judicial duties or otherwise give the appearance of impropriety..." In this instance, given the insulation of the judiciary from the source of the funding, there appears to be no danger of an appearance of influencing the performance of judicial duties or the appearance of impropriety. Accordingly, the participation in the program; as described, is ethically permissible.