October 27, 2005
Note: Please see Joint Opinion 15-26/15-44, which provides a broad overview of prior opinions about attending domestic violence related events. Joint Opinion 15-26/15-44 modifies Opinions 08-191, 06-05 and 05-62 "to the extent they preclude a judge from merely attending any event whatever run by a domestic violence advocacy organization which solely serves domestic violence victims."
Digest: (1) A judge should not attend functions sponsored by a domestic violence advocacy organization that focuses on providing court-related services solely on behalf of domestic violence victims. (2) In cases involving a domestic violence advocacy organization that focuses on providing such services solely on behalf of domestic violence victims, a judge need not disclose to litigants that the judge’s spouse is a member of the organization, as long as the judge believes that he/she can remain fair and impartial.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(A), 100.4(A)(1); Opinions 95-34 (Vol. XIII), 04-59.
A Family Court judge asks whether it is ethically permissible for the judge to attend functions sponsored by a domestic violence advocacy organization. The judge advises that:
[T]he coalition has advocates in certain courtrooms, especially in the arraignment part of the Family Court, in order to assist petitioners who apply for temporary orders of protection. These advocates are also sometimes in other parts before other judges. The advocates appear almost exclusively on family offense matters. The coalition also has staff counsel who occasionally represent litigants in the family court, generally regarding family offense cases, but occasionally also on custody and visitation matters.
A judge must act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary [ 22 NYCRR 100.2(A)], and may engage in extra-judicial activities as long as they do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge [22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(1)]. In Opinion 95-34, (Vol. XIII), this Committee concluded that a judge may participate in a Domestic Violence Task Force that includes persons from both the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices without casting doubt on the judge’s impartiality. In contrast, however, a judge may not serve as a member of a Domestic Violence Community Coordinating Council that engages in vigorous advocacy on behalf of domestic violence victims [Opinion 99-46 (Vol. XVII)] and should not attend and participate in monthly meetings of a judges’ working group for a lawyers’ committee against domestic violence (Opinion 04-59) as a judge’s participation in these groups could create an appearance of impropriety and cast doubt on the judge’s ability to act impartially. For the same reasons, we conclude that a judge also should refrain from attending functions sponsored by a domestic violence advocacy organization whose sole purpose is to provide services for domestic violence victims in connection with court proceedings.
The judge also asks if the judge must disclose to litigants appearing before him/her that his/her spouse is a member of the same domestic violence advocacy organization. In the Committee’s view, disclosure under these circumstances is not required so long as the judge believes that he or she can remain fair and impartial in those cases involving the advocacy organization. We note that the spouse is merely a member of the organization and presumably plays no role in its operations or the performance of services on behalf of victims who seek the organization’s assistance.