October 22, 2009
Digest: A full-time judge may permit his/her law clerk to continue serving as treasurer of the county bar association, even if the bar association allows the district attorney to print his/her policies concerning disposition of Vehicle and Traffic Law citations on its letterhead, which includes the law clerk’s name, and makes copies available at each of the local courts.
Rules: 22 NYCRR Part 50; 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.3(C)(2); Opinions 09-105; 08-11; 99-136 (Vol. XVIII); 99-82 (Vol. XVIII).
A full-time judge's law clerk is the treasurer of a county bar association and his/her name is listed on the bar association's letterhead with that title. The judge advises that the bar association is currently considering a request by the district attorney to print his/her office’s "policies and procedures" concerning disposition of Vehicle and Traffic Law citations on the bar association's letterhead and also to post them on the bar association's web site. The district attorney would distribute his/her policies and procedures, printed on the bar association’s letterhead, to all individuals charged with violations of the Vehicle and Traffic Law by making "copies available at each of the local courts so that defendants who appear can take a copy with them." The judge asks whether he/she may permit his/her law clerk to continue serving as the bar association's treasurer should the bar association grant the District Attorney’s request.
A judge must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all the judge's activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and 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]). Although very few provisions of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct apply directly to law clerks, a judge must nonetheless require his/her staff to observe the standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to the judge and to refrain from manifesting bias or prejudice in the performance of their official duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[C]). In addition, the judge’s law clerk is subject to the Rules Governing NonJudicial Employees (see 22 NYCRR Part 50).1
In the Committee's view, the inquiring judge may permit his/her law clerk to continue serving as treasurer of a county bar association even if the bar association permits the District Attorney to print his/her policy and procedure for disposing of Vehicle and Traffic Law citations on the bar association’s letterhead, which includes the judge’s law clerk’s name as one of its officers. However, the judge’s law clerk must ensure that the letterhead does not directly or indirectly disclose the law clerk's professional association with the judge (cf. Opinion 99-136 [Vol. XVIII] [a letter soliciting contributions from bar associations in support of a high school essay contest sponsored by a judicial district's Gender Fairness Committee should not contain the names of any judges or any references to the State of New York or the Unified Court System]) or in any way suggest that the court has approved the district attorney's procedures and policies (see e.g. Opinions 09-105; 08-11; 99-82 [Vol. XVIII]).
1 The judge advises that the law clerk has already contacted the Unified Court System's Office of Court Administration, which has the ultimate authority to interpret Part 50 of the Chief Judge's Rules, for direct guidance on any issues that may arise under the Rules Governing Conduct of Nonjudicial Court Employees.