March 19, 2020
Digest: A judge may attend and speak at a free elder abuse awareness conference sponsored by a not-for-profit home health care agency, where the program is primarily educational and preventative in nature.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(B); Opinions 17-146; 15-26/15-44; 12-74; 04-34.
A full-time judge asks if he/she may speak at an elder abuse awareness conference sponsored by a not-for-profit certified home health agency that provides services and support to aging individuals to help them remain in their homes for as long as safely possible. The conference is free and open to the public. Past speakers have included state and county officials and professionals who work in the elder care field.
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2 [A]). A judge may “speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in extra-judicial activities,” subject to generally applicable limitations on judicial speech and conduct (22 NYCRR 100.4[B]). For example, a judge’s extra-judicial activities must not be incompatible with judicial office and must not (1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge's 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 (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]-).
We recognized the community benefits from having judges take an active part in community affairs whenever possible, including in efforts to prevent underage drinking (see Opinion 12-74) or to help extricate domestic violence victims from abusive relationships (see Opinion 15-26/15-44 [analyzing the ethical propriety of a judge’s involvement in a variety of domestic violence related events]). Of course, the event must not be so extraordinarily one-sided in nature that the judge’s mere attendance would necessarily cast doubt on his/her ability to be impartial (see id.).
We also said a judge may attend a free public conference on human trafficking, where the program will focus primarily on helping identify and assist at-risk individuals (see Opinion 17-146). We noted the program was unlikely to be perceived as a law enforcement program, as it was not sponsored by a law enforcement agency but by multiple governmental and charitable entities, whose primary purpose is educational (see id.). Likewise, a judge may “attend and participate” in a summit on elder abuse, provided he/she “does not comment on any matter pending or impending in any court; does not participate in law enforcement or prosecution oriented presentations; and does not express views which manifest a predisposition in deciding issues or cases” (Opinion 04-34).
Here, the subject matter of the conference, i.e. helping prevent elder abuse, is not unduly controversial or one-sided. As the program appears primarily educational and preventative in nature, and is unlikely to cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge or otherwise interfere with proper performance of judicial duties, we conclude the judge may attend and speak at the program.