Opinion 20-214


March 11, 2021


Digest:         A part-time judge who is an ordained minister, and who is legally permitted to solemnize marriages in that capacity, may establish a for-profit business to solemnize marriages as an ordained minister and advertise such business, provided there is no use, mention or connection to the judge’s judicial status.


Rules:          GML § 805-b; Judiciary Law § 212(2)(l); 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(D)(1)(a); 100.6(B)(4); 101.1; Opinions 16-86; 16-56; 16-10; 10-25; 06-41; 92-125.




         A part-time judge asks if they may open a business as an ordained minister wedding officiant. The judge would advertise their availability to perform wedding ceremonies as an ordained minister without any reference to their judicial status.1 The judge explains that “any calls for weddings that come through” the courthouse or the judge’s judicial position would be fully separate and not part of the business.


         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 engage in financial and business dealings that may reasonably be perceived as exploiting the judge’s judicial position (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[D][1][a]) or lend the prestige of judicial office to advance private interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]). Subject to these and other limits, a part-time judge may accept extra-judicial employment, as long as the enterprise is “not incompatible with judicial office and does not conflict or interfere with” the judge’s judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.6[B][4]).


         We note, initially, that a judge may be an ordained minister (see Opinion 16-86) and New York law permits a judge to receive some compensation for solemnizing a marriage (see GML § 805-b).


         However, we have advised that a part-time judge may not place classified advertisements indicating their availability to officiate marriages (see Opinion 16-10) or refer to their judicial status in advertisements for the judge’s private law practice (see Opinions 10-25; 06-41; 92-125). Indeed, a part-time attorney judge “may not erect a sign on the facade of the judge’s law office advertising that he/she is a ‘Justice of the Peace,’ authorized to solemnize marriages” (Opinion 06-41).


         Unlike these prior opinions, here the inquirer is both an ordained minister and a part-time judge, seeking to establish and promote a business based solely on the judge’s status as an ordained minister. We see no ethical impropriety to a part-time judge’s proposed business activity as an ordained minister, provided there is no use, mention or connection to the judge’s judicial status. In effect, the judge’s judicial status must be completely insulated from their wedding officiating business and any related promotional activities. For example, the ceremonies must not be conducted at the courthouse, and the judge must take steps to ensure that municipal and court personnel who receive inquiries about solemnization of marriages do not refer anyone to the judge’s wedding officiating business, as this would improperly lend the prestige of judicial office to further the judge’s private interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]; cf. Opinion 16-56 [a judge who declines to perform weddings may permit court staff to refer couples only to another incumbent public official who is authorized to solemnize marriages]).


         We do not comment on any legal issues, including questions concerning whether or not GML § 805-b applies to the judge’s proposed business (see generally Judiciary Law § 212[2][l]; 22 NYCRR 101.1).





1 We assume the judge is legally permitted to solemnize marriages in their capacity as an ordained minister, as that is the entire premise of the inquiry.