Opinion 23-221


February 1, 2024


Digest:  A town justice may serve on the board of a not-for-profit organization formed to preserve and protect a nearby lake.  The judge may not serve on the subcommittee that serves as a liaison with law enforcement and conservation officers, but may attend the subcommittee’s annual luncheon.


Rules:   22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(C)(3); 100.4(C)(3)(a)(i); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i)-(ii); Opinions 23-213; 13-134; 12-80; 10-130; 06-170; 01-63; 99-137; 89-58.




          A part-time town justice asks if it is ethically permissible to serve on the board of directors of a not-for-profit organization formed to preserve and protect a nearby lake.[1]  If so, the judge further asks if he/she may serve on the organization’s navigation and recreation subcommittee.  The navigation and recreation subcommittee promotes safety and recreation programs on the lake, acts as liaison with law enforcement and conservation officers, and educates members and visitors about issues relevant to safe and lawful enjoyment of the lake (e.g. boating maintenance and speed limits, fishing regulations, and the like).  The subcommittee hosts an annual luncheon which is attended by organization members and law enforcement agents from local sheriff’s offices and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.  The inquirer’s judicial duties include adjudicating speeding tickets issued to owners or operators of boats and automobiles, along with other infraction and violation citations issued by the local sheriff deputies and conservation officers, in addition to minor crimes.


          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]).  A judge’s extra-judicial activities must be compatible with judicial office and must not cast 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 (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A][1]-[3]).  A judge may serve as an officer, director, trustee, or non-legal advisor of an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization not conducted for profit, subject to certain limitations (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3]).  For example, a part-time judge may not so serve if the entity is likely to be engaged in proceedings that ordinarily would come before the judge (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][a][i]).  In addition, a judge may not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or engage in other fund-raising activities, although they may assist in planning fund-raising activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i]).


          A judge may be a member of a local not-for-profit conservation organization (see e.g. Opinion 89-58 [Ducks Unlimited, Inc., which raises funds for “waterfowl and waterfowl habitat conservation in North America”]) and may serve on the board of a not-for-profit organization that promotes safety standards and awareness in a particular sport (see e.g. Opinion 10-130 [organization promoting safety standards and administrative reform in the sport of boxing]).  We have also said a judge may serve on the board of a not-for-profit organization dedicated to maintaining a local park and providing educational and cultural programs for the community (see Opinion 23-213) or a not-for-profit park development corporation chartered to create a waterfront park in the judge’s municipality (see Opinion 01-63).  In the latter case, we noted the entity had solicited public input and published its master plan, and the inquiry revealed no “controversial issues or litigation surrounding the park project” (id.). 


          Here, too, we conclude the judge may serve as a board member of a not-for-profit organization formed to preserve and protect a nearby lake, subject to limitations on fund-raising and other generally applicable limitations on judicial speech and conduct. 


          However, the judge may not serve on the organization’s navigation and recreation subcommittee, which serves as a liaison with law enforcement and conservation officers, as its activities may be seen as intertwined with law enforcement functions and/or may create the appearance that the judge is aligned in interest with law enforcement (see Opinion 12-80). 


          We have advised that a judge may attend purely social functions of an association of law enforcement officers, even though the judge may not be a member (see e.g., Opinions 13-134 [local fraternal order of police]; 99-137 [deputy sheriffs’ association]).  We have also said that a judge may attend a holiday party sponsored by local law enforcement agencies whose officers may regularly appear in the judge’s court, “provided the judge avoids any actions that may be perceived to advance the private interests of the [organization], or of individuals attending, or which may otherwise create an appearance of impropriety” (Opinion 06-170).  Accordingly, we conclude that the judge may attend the navigation and recreation subcommittee’s annual luncheon.  If the luncheon is a fund-raiser, the judge must not be a speaker or the guest of honor (see Opinion 13-134; 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][ii]).


[1] The judge’s town is one of several bordering the lake, and most of the organization’s members own homes or businesses near the lake.