June 6, 2008
Note: This opinion has been modified by Opinion 16-95/16-107 to reflect that the propriety of the judge’s letter under the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct does not depend on whether the District Attorney and Public Defender submit similar letters.
Digest: A part-time town/village justice who is president of a county magistrates association may write a letter on the association’s behalf, in support of a grant application by the American Probation and Parole Association for funds to provide services that will benefit only crime victims, provided the District Attorney and Public Defender also do so, and provided the magistrates association’s letter sets forth only the personal knowledge and experience of association’s members with the American Probation and Parole Association and is limited to objective facts.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(c); 100.4(C)(3)(b) (i),(iii); Opinions 06-85; 97-71 (Vol. XVI); 88-94 (Vol. II).
A part-time town/village justice, who is president of a county magistrates association, asks whether he/she may write a letter on the association’s behalf to the Office of Victims of Crimes in support of a grant application by the American Probation and Parole Association (hereinafter APPA). According to the inquiring judge, the grant is “under the National Field Training and Technical Assistance Grant and Demonstration Project on Improving the Capacity of Victim Service Providers and Allied Practitioners in advancing the rights and services for Crime Victims regarding restitution.” The inquiring judge further advises that both the District Attorney and the Public Defender have also been asked to write letters in support of the grant application. The Public Defender has already done so.
A judge must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.2), and shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]). In addition, a judge is prohibited from personally participating in the solicitation of funds, or other fund-raising activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][i], but may make recommendations to public and private fund-granting organizations on projects and programs concerning the law, the legal system or the administration of justice (see NYCRR 100.4[C][b] [iii]).
The Committee previously has advised, therefore, that a Family Court judge may write a letter to support a non-profit organization’s or government agency’s request for funding when the organization or agency provides services to the court on a regular basis (see Opinion 88-94 [Vol. II], as such organization or agency contributes to the administration of justice (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][iii]). Similarly, a judge may write a letter supporting an organization's application for funding from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services to develop a legal advocacy component in the area of domestic violence where he/she has had the opportunity to work with the organization in his/her court (see Opinion 97-71[Vol. XVI]).
Should its grant application be approved, It appears that the services APPA would provide will also promote the administration of justice. Nevertheless, it would be improper for a judge to write a letter supporting a grant application that will finance services for the benefit of crime victims only. Here, however, the inquiring judge advises that the District Attorney also has been asked to write a letter in support of APPA’s grant application. So long as the inquiring judge ensures that the District Attorney will in fact write such a letter, he/she also may write one on behalf of the county magistrates association in support of the APPA’s grant application. The letter must set forth only the personal knowledge and experience of the magistrates association’s members with the recipient organization and must be based on and limited to objective facts (see Opinion 06-85).