June 6, 2008
Please note that Opinion 05-134, which is cited herein for its discussion of certain prior Opinions, has been overruled by Opinion 12-44. Although readers may wish to review Opinion 12-44 for a more up-to-date discussion of prior Opinions, the advice contained in the present Opinion remains in effect.
Digest: A judge should not participate in a panel discussion of offender accountability and court compliance calendars at a domestic violence training program sponsored by a domestic violence advocacy group.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(A); 100.4(A)(1); Opinions 06-108; 05-134; 05-62; 04-59; 99-46 (Vol. XVII); Opinion 98-87 (Vol. XVII); 95-34 (Vol. XIII).
A part-time judge who has presided over a local domestic violence docket for several years asks whether he/she may participate in a “panel discussion of offender accountability at an upcoming [domestic violence] training program.” The purpose of the program, which is sponsored by a domestic violence advocacy group, is to “provide the Justices of [local counties] and any others who might attend with information about the problem of domestic violence, and how courts have been addressing this problem.” The inquiring judge, however, has been asked more specifically to address questions regarding compliance calendars and “the court’s role in holding a defendant who either has been found or has pled guilty of a DV offense accountable for complying with the court’s orders.”
A judge must act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]) and may engage in extra-judicial activities as long as they do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]).
The Committee previously has advised that a judge may participate in a Domestic Violence Task Force that includes representatives from both the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices without casting doubt on the judge’s impartiality (see Opinion 95-34 [Vol. XIII]) and may even speak about the felony domestic violence part over which the judge presides at a conference about domestic violence, as long as the judge avoids commenting on pending or impending cases, or manifesting a predisposition to decide such cases in a certain way (see Opinion 98-87 [Vol. XVII]).
In contrast, however, a judge may not serve as a member of a Domestic Violence Community Coordinating Council that engages in vigorous advocacy on behalf of domestic violence victims (see Opinion 99-46 [Vol. XVII]); should not attend and participate in monthly meetings of a judges’ working group for a lawyers’ committee against domestic violence (see Opinion 04-59); and should not attend functions sponsored by a domestic violence advocacy organization whose sole purpose is to provide services for domestic violence victims in connection with court proceedings (see Opinion 05-62). In each of these activities, the sponsor’s goal was to promote a point of view or to support one side in a particular class of cases (see Opinion 05-134 [discussing cases]). A judge’s participation in these activities, therefore, could reasonably cast doubt on his/her ability to remain impartial in those cases. Of particular concern are circumstances where the judge would “[a]ctively align” him/herself with the promotion of “offender accountability” (see Opinion 06-108).
For similar reasons, we conclude that the judge in the present inquiry also should refrain from participating in a panel discussion of offender accountability and court compliance calendars that is sponsored by a domestic violence advocacy group.