Opinion 08-09

January 31, 2008


Digest:         A judge may join, support, and participate in an organization formed to seek a change in the law that would enable more non-relative victims of domestic violence to obtain civil orders of protection in Family Court.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3); Opinions 07-68; 06-34; 99-77 (Vol. XVIII); 95-34 (Vol. XIII).


         A judge who presides in criminal cases asks whether he/she may support and participate in a statewide coalition seeking to change the law to enable domestic violence victims who are not “family members” to obtain civil orders of protection in Family Court. Article 8 of the Family Court Act currently defines “family members” as persons who are married, divorced, related by blood or marriage, or have children in common. The coalition’s goal is to bring unmarried victims of domestic violence - who reside with or are dating their abuser, including victims who are lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender, elderly, or minors - within the statute’s ambit.

         The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct provide that “[a] judge may be a member ... of an organization ... devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice” (22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3]). Previously, the Committee has permitted judges: to join an organization devoted to improving the legal system’s handling of domestic violence matters (Opinion 95-34 [(Vol. XIII]); to co-chair a citizens task force to reduce teen violence (Opinion 99-77 [Vol. XVIII]); and to

support bills in the State Legislature that would amend the law concerning prisoners and medicaid (Opinion 07-68) and would benefit incarcerated domestic violence survivors convicted of crimes against their abusers (Opinion 06-34). Similarly, the judge here may join and participate in a coalition that seeks to change the law by enhancing access to civil orders of protection for victims of domestic violence, as it also involves the improvement of the law, the legal system and the administration of justice (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3]).