June 9, 2005
Digest: A town justice who practices law may, under these circumstances, accept a referral of a matter from an attorney who had previously appeared before the judge and was fined in a zoning violation matter.
Rule: 22 NYCRR 100.2
A part-time town justice, who is also a practicing lawyer, had recommended a client to an attorney who shortly thereafter recommended one of his clients to the justice. The justice neither received nor requested a referral fee for the referral. As it turned out, the referred client did not retain the justice. Some time later, the same attorney, in a negotiated plea with the village attorney involving said attorney’s personal zoning violation, pled guilty and was fined by the same justice. Thereafter, the same client originally referred to the justice by that attorney (but who did not then retain the judge) again contacted the justice, but this time asking to retain the justice in an unrelated Surrogate Court matter. The justice once again advises that no referral fee will be paid to the attorney for this referral. The justice asks whether it is appropriate to represent this client in Surrogates Court in light of these facts.
Though the referral of law business between the justice and this attorney may impact that attorney’s ability to appear before the justice, there is no similar consequence where the justice subsequently represents the client in a matter in another court. Nothing in the facts presented suggests the attorney received any special consideration at the instance of the justice on the plea or sentence and fine, or that the client subsequently retained the justice at the instance of the attorney or in return for any such special consideration. The Committee is therefore of the opinion that there is no appearance of impropriety in the inquirer’s acceptance of the referral. 22 NYCRR 100.2.