Opinion 23-84


June 15, 2023


Digest:  A judge may host an informal event at the courthouse, with light refreshments, to thank and recognize the not-for-profit entities that participate in the court’s community service program by permitting defendants to satisfy their community service requirements as part of a negotiated sentence.


Rules:   22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.3(B)(8); Opinions 20-39; 16-91; 09-68; 08-177; 95-53.




          The inquiring judge presides in a multi-judge court with a busy criminal calendar.  The judge explains that when negotiated sentences for criminal defendants include community service obligations, defendants are provided a list of not-for-profit organizations, previously approved by the court, that have agreed to accept community service placements.[1]  The defendant selects the organization and thereafter provides verification of service to the court.  Since the pandemic, however, relatively few organizations have been willing to participate.  Accordingly, the inquiring judge asks if it is ethically permissible to host a free thank-you event at the courthouse for the entities that accept defendants for community service placements.  Both prosecution and defense counsel would also be invited, along with court staff and judges, but not the general public or litigants.  Light refreshments such as coffee and cake would be provided, and the judge would issue certificates of appreciation to recognize the not-for-profit organizations that participate in the community service program.


          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]). 


          In prior opinions we have said a judge may ask local not-for-profit organizations if they are willing to accept court placement of defendants (see Opinion 16-91); may use personal income to purchase items of nominal value to reward participating  defendants in a problem-solving court (see Opinion 08-177); may personally thank attorneys who have accepted pro bono assignments and send handwritten or typed thank-you notes on the judge’s court stationery marked “personal and unofficial” (Opinion 09-68); may write a personal letter to jurors thanking them for their service (see Opinion 95-53); and may create generic thank you cards featuring a stock image of the exterior of the courthouse and pre-printed with “Thank you” followed by the judge’s title and name (see Opinion 20-39).


          Given the proposed event’s purpose and its balanced invitation list, we conclude it is unlikely to cast doubt on the judge’s impartiality or otherwise create an appearance of impropriety.  Therefore, we conclude the judge may host an event as described to thank and recognize the not-for-profit entities that participate in the court’s community service program.  The judge’s participation is of course subject to generally applicable limitations on judicial speech and conduct.  For example, the judge must not comment on any matter pending or impending in any court within the United States or its territories (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[B][8]) and must not manifest a predisposition in deciding issues or cases.


          While we cannot comment on legal or administrative questions, we suggest that the inquirer check whether any administrative approvals may be required.


[1] The judge notes there are no fees charged to the defendant-participants and no payments made by the court to the organizations.