May 5, 2022
Digest: A judge may serve as master of ceremonies at a non-fund-raising retirement picnic sponsored by congregants of the judge’s house of worship for its minister.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i)-(ii), (iv); Opinions 17-124; 16-17; 15-154; 14-193; 12-170; 12-59; 05-104; 03-129; 97-06.
A judge has been invited to serve as the master of ceremonies at a retirement picnic honoring the minister of the judge’s house of worship. There will be no charge for admission. The organizers do not consider the event a fund-raiser but hope to defray the costs of the event through a variety of means, including by inviting voluntary donations online and/or at the function, and by selling advertisements in advance for a program that will be distributed at the picnic. These efforts do not and will not involve the judge. It appears that the judge’s responsibilities as master of ceremonies will include welcoming attendees, managing program events through announcements, introducing individuals who are scheduled to entertain, introducing various speakers, and offering information such as directions to the location of food and beverage trucks. It is possible that public officials running for political office may also be in attendance.
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). Subject to exceptions inapplicable here, a judge “shall not be a speaker ... at an organization’s fund-raising events” (22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][ii]), “shall not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities” (22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][i]), and “shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising” (22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][iv]).
The propriety of the judge’s involvement here depends on whether the event is a fund-raiser. We have previously said a judge may serve as a master of ceremonies within specified parameters at various community based, non-political, non-fundraising events (see Opinions 12-170; 12-59; 03-129; 97-06).
In general, if the charge (should there be one) for the event is intended primarily to cover costs and there is no other fund-raising or membership solicitation at or associated with the event, it is not considered a fund-raiser, even if the ticket price results in some minimal surplus (see generally Opinions 16-17; 14-193; 05-104). Conversely, where an otherwise “modestly priced dinner” also involves “substantial, ongoing and prominent fund-raising,” we deemed this to be a fund-raising event and advised that a judge may not be a guest speaker (Opinion 15-154; 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][ii]). Likewise, we said a judge may not be the guest speaker for an annual tea party of a charitable organization, where the tea party “includes an advertised raffle/auction in an adjacent room” which is intended to raise funds (Opinion 17-124).
On the facts presented, including the organizers’ stated intent to merely defray costs and the absence of any planned or prominent fund-raising activities during this free event, we conclude the picnic as described is not a fund-raiser. It is therefore our opinion that the inquiring judge may serve as master of ceremonies to the extent indicated. However, the judge should advise the event organizer to arrange for someone else to introduce any public officials who are actively engaged in campaigns for election or re-election to public office (see Opinion 03-129).