Opinion 20-18

January 30, 2020


Digest:         A full-time judge may personally appeal the denial of claims for health insurance coverage for his/her dependent child and may seek reversal of charges imposed by the child’s college related to the claims.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(G); 18-120; 13-38; 12-169; 07-178; 06-101; 03-125; 92-118; 2020 Ann Rep of NY Commn on Jud Conduct at 102.


         The inquiring full-time judge’s dependent child, who attends college in another state and who is insured under the judge’s health insurance policy, obtained treatment from the college’s medical office. The judge’s health insurance carrier denied the claims and the college charged the child’s student account for the cost of the visits. The judge asks if he/she may personally appeal his/her health insurance carrier’s denial of claims and contact the college to seek reversal of the charges.

         A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2), and must always act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge must not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance any private interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]). A full-time judge may not practice law, although he/she “may act pro se” (22 NYCRR 100.4[G]).

         We have recognized that “a person elected or appointed to judicial office does not forfeit his/her rights or responsibilities as a parent” (Opinion 07-178; see also Opinion 12-169 [noting “the special nature of the parent-child bond”]). We have also said full-time judges may act pro se or undertake certain pre-litigation actions on behalf of their children without violating the prohibition against the practice of law (see e.g. Opinions 13-38 [judge may express his/her concerns about the conduct of his/her child’s public school teacher]; 06-101 [judge may accompany minor child to a hearing of the Transit Adjudication Bureau concerning a summons he/she received]), although they may not serve as their child’s legal counsel (see e.g. Opinions 18-120 [distinguishing between permissible and impermissible activities]; 92-118 [full-time judge may not represent his/her child at a real estate closing]; 2020 Ann Rep of NY Commn on Jud Conduct at 102 [full-time judge improperly appeared in court on behalf of his daughter]). Similarly, we have said a full-time judge may serve as his/her parent’s authorized representative and appear with him/her in that capacity, and not as his/her attorney, at a hearing on the parent’s appeal of a Medicare determination (see Opinion 03-125).

          Thus, we conclude this judge may act pro se in appealing the denial of claims for coverage under his/her own insurance policy and seek reversal of the underlying charges imposed by the college, provided he/she does not invoke the prestige of judicial office in doing so (see Opinion 03-125; 2020 Ann Rep of NY Commn on Jud Conduct at 102 [full-time judge improperly referenced his judicial status on behalf of his daughter]; see also generally 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]; 100.4[G]).