March 9, 2006
Digest: A Family Court judge should not serve on a Citizens Review Panel which studies whether state and local agencies are effectively discharging their child protective responsibilities.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3); 100.4(C)(3)(a)(i) and (ii); 100.2 Joint Opinion 00-54/00-56 (Vol. XIX); Opinions 99-46 (Vol. XVII); 96-96 (Vol. XIV).
A newly-elected Family Court judge was appointed by the Governor before his/her election to serve on a Citizens Review Panel. As required by the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, the panel is to determine whether state and local agencies are effectively discharging their child protective responsibilities. States receiving federal funding under that legislation are required to establish such panels. The statute provides that panel members shall examine the policies and procedures of agencies and, where appropriate, the handling of specific cases. The judge asks if it is permissible to continue to serve on the panel.
Judges may, of course, serve in organizations "devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system and the administration of justice." 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3). Such service is limited by the provision that the judge may not serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor if it is likely that the organization will be engaged in proceedings that ordinarily would come before the judge or will be engaged regularly in adversary proceedings in any court. 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(a)(i) and (ii). Moreover, service upon a committee or commission should not cast doubt on his or her impartiality as a judge (Joint Opinion 00-54/00-56 (Vol. XIX); Opinion 99-46 (Vol. XVII)) or create any appearance of impropriety. 22 NYCRR 100.2.
It is the opinion of the Committee that the judge should not serve as a member of the panel. Although the Citizens Review Panel described above is concerned with the improvement of the law, the legal system and the administration of justice, the judge's service may cast doubt upon the judge's impartiality. Significantly, the state and local agencies to be evaluated by the panel are likely to appear before the judge. Therefore, a conclusion by the judge regarding whether such agencies are effectively discharging their duties could be perceived as an endorsement or rejection of agency policy and procedures and thereby erode public confidence in the independence of the judiciary. Joint Opinion 00-54/00-56 (Vol. XIX); Opinion 96-96 (Vol. XIV). Further, in carrying out the work of the panel, the judge's review of specific cases could create an appearance of impropriety. 22 NYCRR 100.2; Opinion 99-46 (Vol. XVII).