Opinion 21-180


March 7, 2022



Dear : 


         This responds to your inquiry (21-180) asking (1) if a judicial association, of which you are an officer, may “make a financial donation to a nonprofit organization that local courts often include as a required condition of pretrial or post-conviction decisions”; (2) if you may do so in the name of a recently deceased member who, as a retired member of the judiciary, worked closely with this particular organization; and (3) if you may personally, as an individual, make such charitable contributions to the nonprofit organization.


Question 1: Contribution by Judicial Association


We have previously advised that a “judge who is co-trustee of a relative’s charitable trust may authorize the trust to make charitable donations to not-for-profit entities that regularly appear before the judge, including legal services providers and agencies to which the judge may make referrals” (Opinion 15-223; see Opinion 12-52). We have further said “[p]rovided the judge can be fair and impartial, neither disclosure nor disqualification is required when a recipient of the trust’s charitable donations appears before him/her” (id.).


Therefore, you may authorize the judicial association to make financial donations to a nonprofit organization.


Question 2: Contribution in Honor of Deceased Judge


We have said that a judge may serve on a committee in support of naming a court building in honor of a deceased judge and write a letter in support to the legislator sponsoring the resolution to do so (see Opinion 10-79). We reasoned that such activity would tend to foster respect for the law, the legal system and the administration of justice and would be permitted by Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (id.; see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3]). We concluded that “the judge may express his/her opinion of the late Judge’s career and contributions to the law. However, the judge must not personally participate in or allow his/her name to be used for any Committee fund-raising activities” (Opinion 10-79).


         Accordingly, you may authorize the judicial association to make a charitable contribution in the name of a recently deceased member.


Question 3 – Personal Contribution to Non-Profit Organization


We have said, as a general rule, “it is no ethical consequence for a judge to make a monetary contribution to a non-profit organization..., even if the organization appears in the judge's court” (Opinion 04-140; see Opinion 13-185). “Thus, the judge may make contributions without disclosure or disqualification, provided they are “relatively modest and not essential to the operation of the organization” (Opinion 15-223, quoting Opinion 15-163).


Therefore, subject to the limitations set forth above, you may personally make charitable contributions to the nonprofit organization.


Enclosed for your convenience are Opinions 15-223; 15-163; 13-185; 12-52; 10-79; 04-140 which address this issue.


                                                 Very truly yours,



                                                 Margaret T. Walsh

                                                 Supreme Court Justice

                                                 Committee Co-Chair


                                                 Lillian Wan

                                                 Supreme Court Justice

                                                 Committee Co-Chair