Opinion 96-53 & 96-67
Digest: Under the special circumstances shown, a judge may contribute to a legal defense fund created on behalf of another judge who faces charges of judicial misconduct brought by the State Commission , but may not solicit contributions to such funds.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2 ( C); Opinion 96-33
In Opinion 96-33, this Committee held that under the particular circumstances presented, it would be permissible for the inquiring judge who faces charges of judicial misconduct brought by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, to allow the formation of a legal defense fund on behalf of the judge. The inquirer now informs the Committee that the legal defense fund has been established and that certain questions have arisen concerning its operation. Similar questions are raised by another judge who wishes to contribute to the legal defense fund.
In brief, the inquirers seek answers to the following questions: (1) May a judge contribute to the legal defense fund? (2) May a judge (but not, of course, the beneficiary of the fund) solicit other judges to contribute to the legal defense fund? (3) May attorneys solicit judges on behalf of the fund? (4) Is the disclosure of the names of its contributions?
As to the first question, the Committee is of the opinion that under the special circumstances set forth in Opinion 96-33, it is permissible for a judge to contribute to the legal defense fund. The Committee’s position in this regard is limited to the factual situation by presented by Opinion 96-33 and is predicated on that opinion’s particular factual backdrop.
As to the second question, in the opinion of the Committee, a judge may not solicit other judges to contribute to the legal defense fund. Section 100.2 ( C) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct prohibits a judge from lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others.
As to whether attorneys may solicit judges for contributions, the Committee does not believe that the question is one of judicial ethics inasmuch as it does not pertain to judicial conduct. Therefore the Committee declines to respond.
Finally, in the view of the Committee, the question of public disclosure of the names of the contributors by the person in charge of the fund also does not raise a question of judicial ethics and the Committee likewise declines to respond.