June 16, 2011
Digest: A judge who coordinates a Unified Court System internship program may not allow the District Attorney’s student interns to participate in the Unified Court System’s program without making a reasonable effort to also invite legal interns from institutional providers of defense services in the same community.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); Opinion 09-127; Joint Opinion 00-54/00-56 (Vol. XIX).
A judge states that he/she participates as a faculty member in a Unified Court System (UCS) program for student interns and also facilitates a courthouse tour for the program participants. The judge asks whether it is permissible to allow interns from the District Attorney’s Office to attend some sessions of the UCS intern program, including the courthouse tour.
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). Therefore, a judge must not convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]).
The Committee previously has cautioned that judges and law clerks should not participate in seminars or other extrajudicial events if they are one-sided and create an appearance that the judge’s neutrality may be compromised (see Opinion 09-127 [law clerk or court attorney should not participate in legal education program sponsored solely by district attorney’s office]; Joint Opinion 00-54/00-56 [Vol. XIX] [judge should not participate with law enforcement agencies in project to develop protocols or guidelines with respect to domestic violence victims, where project excludes legal representatives of defendants, and will aid the prosecution of such cases on behalf of victims]). Participation in such programs could create an appearance of impropriety as the judge or law clerk may be perceived as aligned with law enforcement (see Opinion 09-127; Joint Opinion 00-54/00-56 [Vol. XIX]).
Although the inquiry here presents the inverse situation, the Committee believes that similar reasoning applies. In particular, there is a risk that inviting only the prosecutor’s interns, and no other interns (e.g., Legal Aid or Public Defender interns), could create an appearance that the prosecutor’s office has a special relationship with the courts (cf. 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]). Accordingly, the inquirer should not invite interns only from the District Attorney’s Office to attend some sessions of the UCS intern program, including the courthouse tour, unless he/she also makes a reasonable effort to invite legal interns from institutional providers of defense services in the same community.