June 3, 2004
Digest: A town judge may respond to a newspaper article reporting criticism of the judge by various town officials for the manner in which the judge maintains accounts for fines received by the court, provided that the judge’s response is strictly limited to the facts concerning the receipt of funds and the attendant accounting, and does not contain personal attacks against municipal officials or others.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(A); 100.3(B)(8); 100.3( C)(1)
A town judge inquires about the propriety of responding to a critical story reported in a local newspaper concerning the judge’s administrative abilities. In particular, the charges relate to the accounting for and reconciling of accounts involving fines received by the court. The article also included critical quotes from the town supervisor, town auditor and one other town official. The judge submits a lengthy letter responding to the newspaper answering the criticisms and inquiries if the response is appropriate. The proposed letter contains denials and explanations of the allegations recounted in the article.
It is the view of the Committee that the judge may respond to the article, subject to certain limitations. The Committee notes that the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct require a judge to discharge the administrative responsibilities of the office without bias or prejudice and with professional competence. 22 NYCRR 100.3( C)(1). The Rules further allow the judge to publicly explain the procedures of the court. This would include those administrative procedures and responsibilities contemplated by section 100.3 which may include, among others, the accounting of and reconciling of fees received by the court. 22 NYCRR 100.3(B)(8). Further, the Committee notes that the Rules require that a judge act in a manner that promotes “public confidence and integrity and impartiality of the judiciary”. 22 NYCRR 100.2 (A). Taken together, the Committee thus concludes that a factual response explaining the administrative procedures of the court is permissible, but the Committee strongly cautions the judge to craft the response in a way which does not personally attack any public official or other individual involved in the audit or the article.
The Committee does not pass upon the particular letter submitted with the judge’s inquiry, and advises that if the judge chooses to draft a response it should comply with the views expressed herein.