June 27, 2001
A judge (1) should not permit his or her law clerk to sign letters of appreciation
to jurors for their services; (2) may permit his or her law clerk to sign
certificates given to students and others evidencing their participation
in various courthouse programs unless, at the time, the law clerk is a
candidate for elective office.
22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.3(C)(2);
Opinions 95-53 (Vol. XIII); 90-93
Upon completion of a jury trial, a judge sends a letter to each juror thanking the juror for his or her service. The letter is signed by the judge and the judge's law clerk. The judge and the judge's law clerk also hold "classroom in the courthouse" programs involving high school and junior high school students, and they allow Girl Scout and Boy Scout groups to observe small claims court proceedings. Each participant receives a certificate signed by the judge and the judge's law clerk evidencing their participation in the court activities. The judge asks about the propriety of the law clerk's signature on the letters to jurors and the certificates while the law clerk is a candidate for judicial office.
A judge must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety (22 NYCRR 100.2) and must require court staff to observe the same standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to the judge. 22 NYCRR 100.3(C)(2). Such requirements apply as much to the judge-juror relationship as in any other area of judicial conduct. Thus, a judge may write letters to jurors thanking them for their service, but should not praise or criticize them for their verdict. Opinion 95-53 (Vol. XIII). A judge's re-election committee may not, however, contact people who previously served as jurors to participate in the judge's campaign, nor should a judge, without a proper legal basis, initiate interviews with the jurors after the verdict to determine whether they were influenced by bias, misconduct or duress in reaching the verdict. Opinion 90-93 (Vol. VI). Accordingly, because a judge is limited with respect to any post-trial contact with jurors, it is the Committee's view that the judge's law clerk should refrain from any post-trial contact with jurors not only during his or her campaign for judicial office, but at all other times as well. If thanks are to be expressed that should come from the judge, not the judge's law clerk.
In general, the Committee believes it is ethically permissible for the judge's law clerk to participate in courtroom programs involving high school and junior high school students, and Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and for the law clerk to sign the certificates at the conclusion of these programs. The judge's law clerk, however, should refrain from doing so during his or her campaign for judicial office.