January 28, 2010
Digest: A judge should not meet with the Chief of Police and the Commissioner of Public Works for the municipality where he/she presides to discuss the judge’s decisions to dismiss a number of parking tickets issued for illegal overnight parking.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(B); Opinion 99-61 (Vol. XVIII); Joint Opinions 06-154/06-167 and 00-54/00-56 (Vol. XIX).
A part-time town justice asks whether he/she may attend a meeting with the Chief of Police and the Commissioner of Public Works for the town where he/she presides. According to the inquirer, he/she had dismissed a number of parking tickets, which prompted the Town Supervisor to request the meeting. The inquirer advises that the Town Supervisor mentioned that the “dangerous conditions that exist when cars park on the street during the evening hours in the winter need to be controlled,” and also expressed his/her concern about the risks faced by town personnel who must clear the roads during the winter.
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]). Therefore, a judge shall not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[B]).
In Joint Opinion 06-154/06-167, the Committee advised that family court judges should not participate in regularly scheduled meetings with the County Department of Children, Youth and Families to discuss the substantive and procedural aspects of Court operations with respect to how the court processes, schedules and resolves child abuse and neglect petitions. In the Committee’s view, such meetings may reasonably create an appearance that the Court is failing to consider other perspectives, which could cast reasonable doubt on the judges’ ability to be impartial (see id.). Nor may a judge serve on a local subcommittee that is formulating policy for the retrieval of personal property by respondents who are the subjects of orders of protection in domestic violence cases (see Opinion 99-61 [Vol. XVIII]) or participate with law enforcement agencies in a project to develop protocols or guidelines for handling domestic violence matters, where the project excludes legal representatives of defendants and is intended to aid in the prosecution of such cases on behalf of victims of domestic violence (see Joint Opinion 00-54/00-56 [Vol. XIX]). In these cases, the Committee advised that working with representatives of only one side of an issue to develop policies, procedures or protocols to guide the court in dealing with the issues could erode the public’s confidence in the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.
For the same reasons, the inquiring judge should not meet with the Chief of Police and the Commissioner of Public Works for the town where he/she presides for the purpose of discussing parking tickets issued for illegal overnight parking after he/she dismissed a number of such tickets. Although the judge has been asked to attend only one meeting, the express purpose of the meeting - to discuss the danger illegally parked cars create for town personnel who must clear the roads during the winter months - and the timing of the meeting - after the judge dismissed a number of tickets issued for parking illegally on town streets during evening hours during the winter - evinces an intent on the part of the meeting participants to influence the judge’s future conduct when law enforcement officers file tickets in the judge’s court for illegal overnight parking during the winter. Therefore, the judge should not participate in the meeting.