Opinion: 97-71

September 11, 1997

Digest:  A judge may write a letter on behalf of an organization which is concerned with the improvement of the law and the administration of justice, supporting that organization's efforts for funding from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services for the purpose of developing a legal advocacy component in the area of domestic violence.

Rules:  22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(iii).


            A judge inquires as to whether it would be a potential conflict of interest or an appearance of impropriety to write a letter of support expressing the judge's "level of commitment" for a non-profit organization, which might have lawyers before her/him as a result of the fund raising effort for which the letter is written. The judge is familiar with the organization's work, as he/she has had an opportunity to work with it in the court. The organization is dedicated to efforts that would improve the law, the legal system and/or the administration of justice in the area of domestic violence

            Section 100.4(C)(3)(b)(iii) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct is specifically relevant. It states:

(b) A judge as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor, or a member or otherwise: (iii) may make recommendations to public and private fund-granting organizations on projects and programs concerning the law, the legal system or the administration of justice...
            Here, the funding would be provided by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Inasmuch as the proposed project seeks funding to set up a legal advocacy component it falls within the parameters of the above section. There is no inherent breach of the Rules. Nor is it necessary for the judge to disclose that such a letter had been written, in those instances where an attorney representing the organization appears before the judge. An inference of bias could not reasonably be drawn merely from the fact that a letter supporting funding of the program had been written by the judge.