September 6, 2007
Digest: A judge should not create, maintain and/or produce information about court cases specifically and exclusively for the benefit of the District Attorney’s Office.
Rules: UJCA § 2019-a; 22 NYCRR 100.1; 100.2(A); Opinions 96-150 (Vol. XV); 96-111 (Vol. XIV).
A town justice asks if it is ethically permissible to comply with a District Attorney’s request for information about cases pending in the justice’s court. Specifically, the district attorney has asked the justice (1) to provide the District Attorney with a list of all open cases pending in the justice’s court at least once per month, and (2) to provide the District Attorney with a schedule or court calendar for each assistant district attorney night/day at least one week in advance, so the assistant district attorney can prepare for court. The District Attorney made the same request for information to all other town and village justices in the county.
In Opinion 96-150 (Vol. XV), this Committee advised that it is improper for a court to notify complainant police officers who are potential prosecution witnesses of the dates when they may be called to testify. To provide such assistance only to the prosecution is inconsistent with a judge’s responsibilities to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary and to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. 22 NYCRR 100.1; 100.2.
Similarly, this Committee also advised in Opinion 96-111 (Vol. XIV) that a judge should not provide a court calendar to the local newspaper, listing the names, addresses, and dates of birth of defendants appearing in the court, and any sentences imposed, to ease a reporter’s chore in searching police records or to generate positive “public relations.” Again, the Committee expressed its concern that by doing so, the judge may compromise the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. Id.
With respect to the present inquiry, the District Attorney and his/her staff are responsible for scheduling and preparing for court appearances. A judge who would assume those prosecutorial administrative responsibilities by affirmatively searching public court records and gratuitously creating, maintaining, and producing schedules and lists specifically and exclusively for the District Attorney and his/her staff, also risks compromising the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. Opinion 96-150 (Vol. XV). The inquiring judge, therefore, should decline to do so. 22 NYCRR 100.1; 100.2(A).
The Committee notes that court records, including those of the Town and Village Justice Courts, are open to reasonable public inspection. UJCA § 2019-a. The inquiring judge, therefore, can suggest that the District Attorney and his/her staff obtain the information requested by visiting the courthouse during regular court hours to review the court’s records.