2012-29 (Emergency Staff Opinion issued October 3, 2012)
Awards & Honors; Advancing Private Interests; Promoting Public Confidence; Prestige of Office
Rules 1.2 & 1.3
A Judicial Official received a letter from the Susan B. Anthony Project (“SBA Project”) in which the organization informed the Judicial Official that he/she has been selected to receive an award at a candlelight vigil. The vigil is a non-fundraising event to remember those who lost their lives to domestic violence and to celebrate those who have survived domestic violence. Organizations and individuals are recognized for their ongoing support of the SBA Project. The Judicial Official inquired whether he/she may accept the award.
Additional Facts: Information obtained from the SBA Project website describes the organization as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity whose mission is to promote safety, healing and growth for survivors of domestic violence. It provides a 24-hour crisis hotline, emergency shelter and transitional housing, counseling and support groups, community education and outreach, and court advocacy, including a personal advocate for each victim when they must appear to confront their abuser. According to the SBA Project website, last year it provided such services for 90 new domestic violence victims each month. The Judicial Official stated that he or she has no connection to the SBA Project other than in connection with the performance of his or her judicial duties.
Response: Rule 1.2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that a judge “shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety. The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge violated this Code or engaged in other conduct that reflects adversely on the judge’s honesty, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge.”
Rule 1.3 provides that a judge “shall not use or attempt to use the prestige of judicial office to advance the personal or economic interests of the judge or others or allow others to do so.”
Based upon the information provided, including that the organization is a victim support and advocacy group that regularly appears in court on behalf of victims of domestic violence, and that the Judicial Official has no nexus to the organization other than his or her judicial rulings, the Committee unanimously determined that acceptance of the award would violate Rules 1.2 and 1.3. In rendering this opinion, the Committee also considered its recent opinion in JE 2012-25 and New York Advisory Opinion 10-59 (a judge should not accept an award from a Violence Intervention Program and appear at a candlelight vigil for those affected by domestic violence). As the New York advisory committee noted, a judge’s presence at such an event in the circumstances presented here would create an appearance of particular sympathy toward one side in court when a judge is required to apply (and to appear to apply) the law in a completely neutral fashion.