June 7, 2007
Digest: A part-time town/village justice may serve on the board of directors of a society providing legal services to children in Family Court, so long as the society’s attorneys do not appear in the justice’s court. Since the inquirer also serves as a law clerk to a County Court judge who is cross-designated for Family Court, he/she must be insulated from any cases involving the society’s attorneys.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.4(A); 100.4(C)(3)(a); Opinion 06-64; Joint Opinion 05-51 and 05-58; Opinions 02-61; 94-51 (Vol. XII).
A part-time town/village justice, who also serves as an acting village justice in another village and as a principal law clerk to a County Court judge, inquires if he/she may become a volunteer member of the board of directors of the Children’s Rights Society, an entity which “render[s] legal assistance to children who would otherwise be denied the equal protection of the law.” The inquirer states that he/she has consulted the non-judicial ethics helpline for guidance on issues relating to Part 50 of the Rules of the Chief Judge. The society employs a staff of attorneys who appear as law guardians in Family Court, but do not appear in any other court. As a member of the society’s board of directors, the inquirer would attend board meetings, participate in the budget process and ratify various decisions by the society’s chief attorney, who handles the day-to-day operations of the society. The inquirer would not be involved in or associated with any fund-raising activities.
As a general rule, a judge may engage in civic or charitable extra-judicial activities that do not cast doubt on his/her capacity to decide impartially any issue that may come before him/her. 22 NYCRR 100.4(A). More specifically, a part-time judge may serve as a director of an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice, as long as the organization is not likely to be engaged in proceedings that would come before the part-time judge. 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(a).
This Committee has previously held that a part-time village justice may serve as chairperson of the board of directors of a legal assistance corporation which represents indigent clients in his/her county, but does not regularly appear in his/her court. Opinion 94-51. The Committee sees no reason to treat the present inquiry differently. In addition, the Committee notes that part-time lawyer judges may directly seek “appointments as law guardians pursuant to Section 243 of the Family Court Act.” Opinion 06-64; Joint Opinion 05-51 and 05-58; Opinion 02-61. Since the inquirer could seek his/her own appointment as a law guardian in Family Court (subject to any applicable Departmental rules or limitations that may exist), it should also be appropriate for him/her to serve on the board of directors of an organization that employs law guardians for Family Court.
Accordingly, a part-time town justice may serve on the board of directors of a legal assistance society whose employees appear only in the Family Court and whose work does not relate to the judge’s town/village court responsibilities. If an attorney from the society were ever to appear in the judge’s town or village court as a law guardian, however, the judge should exercise recusal.
The Committee further notes that, if the inquirer’s County Judge is cross-designated to Family Court, the inquirer must be insulated from any Family Court matters in which the society’s attorneys appear.