June 3, 2004
Digest: A judge should not attend and participate in monthly meetings of a judges’ working group for a lawyers’ committee against domestic violence.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(A); 100.4(A)(1); 100.4(C)(3); Opinions 95-34, (Vol. XIII); 99-46 (Vol. XVII); 99-61 (Vol. XVIII); 00-54/56 (Vol. XIX).
A judge asks whether it is ethically permissible to attend and participate in monthly meetings of a judges’ working group for a lawyers’ committee against domestic violence. The group includes attorneys who regularly appear before the judge representing litigants alleging domestic violence.
Pursuant to the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, a judge may be a member of an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice (22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)), so long as such membership does not cast doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(1). In addition, §100.2(A) requires all judges to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. 22 NYCRR 100.2(A).
In applying these provisions, this Committee has concluded that a judge may serve on a domestic violence task force that includes representatives from local police agencies, the District Attorney’s staff, the Public Defender’s staff, social services agencies, Family Court representatives, and several judges. Opinion 95-34 (Vol. XIII). In contrast, however, this Committee has concluded that a judge should not serve as a member of the following groups: (1) a subcommittee that would attempt to formulate policy for retrieving personal property of a respondent who is the subject of an order of
protection in a domestic violence case (Opinion 99-61 [Vol. XVIII]); (2) as a member of a domestic violence community coordinating council that is engaged heavily in advocacy on behalf of domestic violence victims ( Opinion 99-46 [Vol. XVII]); or, (3) as a member of a criminal justice focus group intended to develop protocols and mission statements for the local county coalition against domestic violence and sexual assault (Opinion 00-54/56[Vol. XIX]). With respect to these latter groups, a judge’s participation could create an appearance of impropriety and cast doubt on the judge’s ability to act impartially.
It is the Committee’s opinion that the inquiring judge also should refrain from attending monthly meetings of a judges’ working group for a lawyers’ committee against domestic violence. Because the lawyers who participate in these meetings regularly appear before the judge and represent litigants alleging domestic violence, the judge’s participation would create an appearance of impropriety and cast doubt on the judge’s ability to act impartially.