April 25, 1996
Digest: A part-time judge who is about to become president of a local bar association (1) may not publicly comment on recent court decisions; (2) may express his/her views on issues relating to the administration of justice and the legal system; (3) in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety, should not undertake the role of introducing judicial candidates at an association-sponsored judges’ reception.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(C); 100.3(B)(8); 100.4(C); 100.5(A); Opinion 90-181.
A part-time judge who is a practicing attorney, has been asked to become president of a local bar association. The judge inquires to what extent he/she may act as a spokesperson for the association, and whether he/she may comment upon recent court decisions or pending or recently enacted legislation.
Section 100.3(B)(8) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct provides that a judge may not make any public comment about pending or impending proceedings in any court within the United States or its territories.
Regarding proposed or enacted legislation, section 100.4(C) of the Rules provides that a judge may appear at a public hearing before a legislative body on matters concerning the law, the legal system and the administration of justice. This Committee has previously determined, in Opinion 90-181, Vol. VI, that former section 100.4(b), which is now section 100.4(C), allowed a judge to publicly express his/her views regarding the administration of justice and the legal system. Thus, the Committee sees no reason why the inquirer could not express his/her views on issues related to the administration of justice and the legal system.
However, the judge must refrain from making comments that might detract from public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary, and if asked to comment on matters that might give rise to such a conclusion, should have a different spokesperson speak.
The part-time judge also inquires if, in his/her role as president of the bar association, he/she may act as a master of ceremonies at an association-sponsored judges’ reception. The inquirer states that the reception is held for all local judicial candidates and all candidates running for judicial office are invited; that the association does not endorse any candidate; and that the event is designed to allow members of the association to meet the candidates.
Section 100.5(A)(1) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct provides that a judge shall not engage in any political activity, including publicly endorsing or opposing a candidate for office (§100.5[A][iii][e]) and making speeches on behalf of a candidate (§100.5[A][iii][f]. While it appears that introducing candidates at a non-partisan, non-political function does not strictly fall within the confines of the above prohibitions, such an introduction could give the appearance of an endorsement by the master of ceremonies, which is prohibited. It also appears that if all the candidates do not appear, the attendees of the function could infer that the association is endorsing the candidates who are attending. Thus, it is the Committee’s opinion that the inquirer, in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety, should not undertake the role of introducing the candidates at the judges’ reception.