January 26, 2006
Digest: It is not unethical for a judge to serve as a member of a ministry which assists in the transition of formerly incarcerated individuals back into society, provided that certain restrictions and limitations on the extent of the judge’s participation are observed.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(3); Opinion 95-34 (Vol. XIII)
An Acting Supreme Court judge asks whether it is appropriate to serve as a member of a church ministry which will provide a Christian based approach to servicing the transitional needs of persons recently released from city, state and federal penal institutions back into society. The judge would act as a mentor/life coach by listening and providing guidance; making referrals to groups, organizations and agencies that can be of assistance; and “brainstorming” issues and concerns of the individual.
Given the description of what is intended, we do not believe that the judge is prohibited from assisting in the work of the organization. Nevertheless, there are aspects of this activity the judge should keep in mind which may raise the possibility that these services may “interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties” or are “incompatible with judicial office.“ 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(3). For example, the judge might inadvertently acquire information that will have to be disclosed in legal settings or result in the judge’s becoming a witness in such proceedings. If that occurs, the judge should promptly discontinue any engagement with the particular individual. Opinion 95-34 (Vol. XIII).
In addition, the judge should refrain from: (1) any involvement that may result in a proceeding which may be brought before the judge or the court on which the judge serves; (2) any interaction with law enforcement agencies or other courts on the participant’s behalf; and, (3) providing employment recommendations, since such recommendations could be perceived as bearing the stamp of judicial approval.
The judge is further cautioned not to participate with anyone who has previously appeared before him/her and not to advise anyone who may appear before his/her court. Participation should be limited to those individuals who have been released and are no longer subject to supervision by any probation or parole authority.
Whether the judge can effectively serve in the manner intended, in light of the foregoing restrictions, is a matter the inquirer must determine. We merely advise the judge to be cognizant of the various considerations expressed herein.