December 7, 2000
A judge should not send a letter to lawyers who have appeared before the
judge, soliciting their ideas, comments and suggestions for use by the
judge in improving the law, the legal system and the administration of
22 NYCRR 100.3(B)(6); 100.4(A)(1).
A judge, who is serving in his/her first year of judicial office asks whether it is proper to send a letter to attorneys who have appeared before the judge in the past year, in which the judge solicits ideas, comments or suggestions for the judge's "use in contributing to the improvement of the law, legal system and the administration of justice." The attorneys are asked not to refer to any specific cases in their response.
In the Committee's opinion, it is inadvisable for the judge to send such a letter. Although asked not to refer to specific cases, there is nothing to prevent an attorney from doing just that, thus calling into play section 100.3(B)(6) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct concerning ex parte communications. Indeed, the nature of the project practically invites such comments since presumably the suggestions being offered are based, at least in part, upon experiences before this judge in a particular case. Further, although not intended as such, the opportunity is created for lawyers to curry favor with the judge, if not in a case presently pending, then in some future matter. This could well cast doubt in the judge's capacity to act impartially. 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(1).
This is not to say that mechanisms are not available for exchanges of ideas between lawyers and judges. Whether through bar association events, Office of Court Administration programs, forums, or other occasions, such opportunities do exist. But, here, where the focus is exclusively on attorneys appearing before a particular judge, the dangers alluded to above lead us to conclude that the letter should not be sent.