September 6, 2007
Digest: A criminal court judge may permit law firm associates to observe court proceedings and may speak to them on court premises about court procedures. The judge may accept the firm’s offer to pay for a modest lunch immediately following the program, as ordinary social hospitality.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(A); 100.3(B)(8); 100.3(E)(1); 100.4(A); 100.4(B); 100.4(D)(5)(c); Opinion 01-58 (Vol. XX).
A full-time judge presiding in the criminal court has been asked by a lawyer at a corporate law firm if he/she would allow a group of the firm’s summer associates to observe court proceedings. The attorney also has asked the judge to speak to the associates about court procedures and to join them for lunch, at the firm’s expense. The judge asks if he/she may do so. The judge notes that, due to the nature of the law firm’s practice, it is unlikely that the firm will ever appear before him/her.
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). A judge may engage in extra-judicial activities such as lecturing and teaching, if doing so does not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially and is not incompatible with judicial office. 22 NYCRR 100.4(A); 100.4(B).
Not all lecturing and teaching activities are permitted. This Committee has previously advised that a full-time judge may not provide instruction in legal writing and advocacy skills to the junior associates of a private law firm. Opinion 01-58 (Vol. XX). An arrangement “where the judge is providing the benefit of his or her judicial knowledge, expertise and experience to the lawyers of a particular firm and that firm alone” is “incompatible with judicial office.” Id. (noting that the judge would be improperly serving the exclusive interests of a private firm).
Here, however, the inquirer proposes to speak to the associates of a law firm in a court facility that is open to the public, during regular court hours, and explain to them the procedures of the court. 22 NYCRR 100.3(B)(8) (judges may explain for public information the procedures of the court). As public officials, it is not unusual for judges to welcome groups into the courtroom and to explain to them the procedures of the court. The judge in this inquiry is not precluded from doing so simply because the group consists of summer associates from a particular law firm. Furthermore, due to the nature of the firm’s practice, the firm does not have, and is unlikely to have, any cases pending before the judge’s court. 22 NYCRR 100.3(E)(1).
Accordingly, the Committee concludes that the proposed tour and lecture are permissible, although the judge must not make any comment about a pending or impending case, must avoid any perception of partiality or a predisposition to decide matters in a particular way, and may not give advice on strategy. 22 NYCRR 100.2(A); 100.3(B)(8).
The judge may accept a modest lunch at the firm’s expense immediately following the program, as ordinary social hospitality. 22 NYCRR 100.4(D)(5)(c).