September 9, 2021
Digest: A full-time judge may attend a law firm’s online “launch party” hosted by an attorney and law firm who do not appear before the judge.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(D)(5)(c); Opinions 92-22; 91-136; 89-23; 87-12.
Opinion: A full-time judge asks if it is permissible to attend a law firm’s online virtual “launch” party, hosted by an attorney and law firm who do not appear before the judge.
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always act in a manner 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 private interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]) and must conduct all extra-judicial activities so that they do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge, detract from the dignity of judicial office, or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties and are not incompatible with judicial office (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]-). An exception to the gift rule expressly permits a judge to accept “ordinary social hospitality” (22 NYCRR 100.4[D][c]).
We have said a judge may attend the opening of an attorney’s new office (see Opinion 91-136) as well as other instances of ordinary social hospitality such as attending an attorney’s 75th birthday party (see Opinion 89-23) or a party hosted by a law firm or a legal agency (see Opinion 87-12).1 The judge does not propose to take on any special role at the opening, but merely to attend, presumably along with other interested members of the legal community. Accordingly, we see no likelihood that the judge’s attendance would cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge or impermissibly lend the prestige of judicial office to the law firm’s interests, and we therefore conclude the judge may attend the law firm’s online launch party (see Opinion 91-136; 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]; 100.2[C]; 100.4[D][c]).
1While we have advised that a judge “should avoid any private social activity with attorneys appearing before the judge during actual trial days” (see Opinion 92-22), this limitation does not come into play where, as here, the attorney and law firm do not appear before the judge.