Opinion 20-46

March 19, 2020


Digest:         A judge may not serve on the board of a not-for-profit entity whose sole purpose is to raise funds for a foreign educational institution.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i), (iv); Opinions 12-14; 09-170; 08-193; 05-144.


         A full time judge asks if he/she may serve on the board of directors of a not-for-profit corporation established to raise funds for an educational institution located in a foreign country. Indeed, the entity’s by-laws reveal no substantial purpose unrelated to fund-raising. For example, there is no indication the board has any role in overseeing the funds raised or directing their use, developing policies and procedures for the educational institution, or reviewing scholarship applications. Nor does the board have any apparent discretion in deciding which projects or entities to fund, since it exists solely to fund the designated institution.

         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]). While a judge generally may assist not-for-profit civic, educational, or charitable organizations in managing their funds, he/she may not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i]). Nor may a judge permit judicial prestige to be used for fund-raising or to advance private interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]; 100.4[C][3][b][iv]).

         Applying these principles, we have said “a judge may serve as an officer or director of a not-for-profit organization that engages in substantial fund-raising efforts,” but “should not chair an entity which appears to have no real function other than fund-raising, where the circumstances will inevitably suggest that the judge is involved in the entity's fund-raising efforts” (Opinion 12-14). Thus, a judge may not serve on a board created to establish a memorial college scholarship fund, where the board’s sole purpose is to raise money for the scholarship (see Opinion 05-144), even though he/she may serve on a board that awards scholarships (see e.g. Opinions 09-170; 08-193).

         As fund-raising for a foreign educational institution is the sole purpose of this entity, the judge may not serve on its board.