Opinion 22-159


October 27, 2022


Digest:     A full-time judge may participate, without compensation, in an interview for a documentary about the life and career of a now-deceased judge who served as the inquirer’s mentor.


Rules:       22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.3(B)(8); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(B); 100.4(D)(3); Opinions 21-67; 20-215; 20-72; 19-166; 17-163/18-03/18-21; 10-206.




The inquiring full-time judge asks if it is ethically permissible to participate in a commercially-produced1 documentary about the life and work of a deceased former judge, who was the inquiring judge’s mentor for many years. The judge would be interviewed on film about their recollections of their former mentor, their relationship, and the influence the mentor had on the inquiring judge’s life and career.


A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety and must always act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2[A]). A judge may speak, lecture, and teach (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[B]), but these and other extra-judicial activities must not interfere with judicial office and must not (1) cast reasonable doubt on his or her 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][1]-[3]). A judge must not make any public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court within the United States or its territories (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[B][8]), nor lend the prestige of judicial office to advance private interests (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]). A full-time judge must not be an “active participant” of any business entity, unless an exception applies (22 NYCRR 100.4[D][3]).


We have said that a full-time judge may participate in a commercially produced news program or documentary, so long as the judge is not compensated for their participation and the judge does not personally promote the program to the public at large (see Opinion 17-163/18-03/18-21).2 In doing so, judges may discuss a wide variety of topics, including their own prior professional experiences (see Opinions 20-215 [documentary about a case the judge prosecuted several decades ago, where no related proceedings are pending or impending]; 20-72 [documentary about a deceased former client and their family, if legally permitted]) and various law-related topics (see Opinions 21-67 [documentary comparing various judicial systems around the world]; 19-166 [documentary commemorating passage of an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution]). We have also said a judge may be interviewed for a documentary film about a well-known former prosecutor who is a former colleague of the judge (see Opinion 10-206).


 Accordingly, we conclude that this full-time judge may likewise participate, without compensation, in the proposed documentary about the life and career of a now-deceased judge who served as the inquirer’s mentor, subject to generally applicable limitations on judicial speech and conduct (see Opinion 17-163/18-03/18-21). For example, the judge must abide by the public comment rule (see Opinion 10-206 [judge must not discuss a “high-profile criminal prosecution which, although technically closed, has now resulted in civil litigation in federal court”]) and must ensure that their remarks are consistent with judicial impartiality and integrity (see id.; 22 NYCRR 100.4[A][1]). While the judge must not personally promote the program to the public at large, the judge may mention their participation to personal friends and family without running afoul of this prohibition (see Opinion 17-163/18-03/18-21).



1 As there is no indication in the inquiry that the film is being produced by or on behalf of a not-for-profit entity, we assume it will be commercially produced.


2 If travel is involved, the judge may accept reimbursement for actual costs incurred, if the source of such payments does not give the appearance of impropriety (see Opinion 20-215).