Opinion: 99-121

September 14, 1999

Digest: Under the circumstances specified, where there is no fund-raising or solicitation of contributions, it is not ethically improper for a judge to consent to having a law school scholarship and an office named after the judge.

Rule:   22 NYCRR 100.2(C); 100.4(C)(b)(i), (iv);
            Opinions 95-54 (Vol. XIII); 90-159 (Vol. VI).


            A judge intends to make a contribution to the law school from which the judge was graduated, and asks the following questions:

May the school recognize my gift with a plaque naming the Law Review Office or another room in my honor? May the plaque note my position as a judge?

Additionally, is it permissible to establish a scholarship bearing my name? The scholarship would be given to law students to assist them in pursuing their law school studies. The fund would be a restricted endowment consisting of my original gift without further contributions from others. The school would choose the individual recipient. The gift to [name] is from personal assets and I, of course, am not or will not be involved in fund raising.

            In the opinion of the Committee, based on the circumstances specified, each of the questions posed may be answered in the affirmative. We note that there is no fund-raising or solicitation involved whatsoever and it does not appear that the judge would be lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others in allowing the scholarship or the room to bear the judge's name. The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct prohibiting such activity would, therefore, not be violated by the consent to such actions on the part of the law school. 22 NYCRR 100.2(C); 100.4(C)(b)(i), (iv).

            In reaching this conclusion, it is important to recognize the critical differences between the circumstances presented in this inquiry and what was before the Committee in Opinion 90-159 (Vol. VI). There, a non-profit corporation engaged in health care was forming a research institute which it wished to name after the inquiring judge. Noting that there was no specific prohibition to having an institute named after a judge, the Committee went on to state (Opinion 90-159 [Vol. VI]):

Although the president of the corporation has promised not to use the judge's title in the corporation's solicitation, it would be impossible to raise funds for the organization without using the judge's name, if the judge's name is part of the institution's name. Accordingly, the judge should not consent to having the institute named after the judge, as this would be a violation of the prohibition against fundraising.
            In the instant matter, that danger is not present. The mere presence of a plaque naming an office or room after the judge is not associated in fact or by inference with any fund-raising endeavor.

            As to creating a law school scholarship in the name of a judge, the Committee addressed that question in Opinion 95-54 (Vol. XIII). Of critical importance, in the Committee's view, was the fact that contributions would not be made to or solicited on behalf of the scholarship bearing the judge's name. Here, since the fund would consist entirely of the judge's gift "without further contributions from others," it would likewise "not appear that the prestige of judicial office is being used for the purpose of soliciting . . . charitable contributions." Opinion 95-54 (Vol. XIII). Accordingly, we reach the same conclusion in this inquiry. As in Opinion 95-54 (Vol. XIII) "the Committee sees no ethical objection in permitting a scholarship to be named after the inquiring judge." Opinion 95-54 (Vol. XIII).