Opinion: 98-137
December 3, 1998
Digest:    A judge should not maintain membership in an activist organization that advocates and pursues positions in controversial public policy matters.

Rule:    22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(1), (3);
            Opinions 97-54 (Vol. XV);
            95-144 (Vol. XIII).


            Prior to being recently elected a full-time judge the inquirer had been a member of a civic organization for many years. The judge now asks whether renewal of membership in the organization is ethically permissible.

            As described by the judge, this particular organization has engaged in a wide variety of public activities, involving different public issues. Among other things, the organization has organized various community groups in support of striking workers; founded an initiative against rate hikes by public utilities; initiated a campaign to save certain highways; organized numerous forums to pressure certain industries to reveal health, safety and environment threats to the community; succeeded in closing toxic facilities and in requiring the clean up of others; established an organization to assist people who have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace; succeeded in the passage of state legislation to improve managed health care; and played a role in pursuing welfare rights.

                Section 100.4(A) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct states:

                (A) A judge shall conduct all of the judge's extra-judicial
                activities so that they do not:

                    (1) cast reasonable doubt on the judges
                    capacity to act impartially as a judge;
                    (2) detract from the dignity of judicial office; or
                    (3) interfere with the proper performance of
                    judicial duties and are not incompatible with
                    judicial office.

            Virtually all of the activities of the organization involve the adoption, advocacy and pursuit of policies and positions in matters that are of substantial public controversy, many of which, in whole or in part, eventuate in litigation. Aligning oneself with the organization by way of membership, certainly creates the appearance of affirming the various policies and positions advocated and pursued by the group. This is not a position a judge should be in. It inevitably "casts reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially" (22 NYCRR 100.4[A][1]) and is "incompatible with the judicial office" 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(3). In our opinion, the judge should not retain membership in this particular organization. See, Opinions 97-54 (Vol. XV); 95-144 (Vol. XIII).