September 4, 2014
Digest: A town justice whose spouse is a village trustee may preside over arraignments for the village court when the village justice and acting village justice are unavailable, and need not disclose the relationship or offer to disqualify him/herself solely on this basis.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.3(E)(1); Opinion 13-170.
The inquiring town justice says his/her spouse is a village trustee. Although the village has its own justice court, the town justice is sometimes called to conduct an arraignment for the village when the village justice and acting village justice are unavailable. He/she states, in such instances, the arresting law enforcement agency could be the village police, the county sheriff’s department, or the New York State police. The justice asks if he/she must recuse or disclose his/her spouse’s status as village trustee when he/she arraigns someone in village court.
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). In addition, a judge must disqualify him/herself in a proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality may reasonably be questioned (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[E]).
In Opinion 13-170, the Committee advised that, where a city court judge’s spouse serves on the city council, absent other disqualifying factors, the judge may preside in the civil part of the court, unless the litigation directly involves the city council or its members as parties.
Similarly, here there is no indication that the town justice’s spouse - or any other village trustee – will be directly involved in any village court arraignments, whether as an arresting officer, witness, prosecutor, defendant, or defense counsel, and the village trustees presumably do not participate in setting the inquiring town justice’s salary, or the town court’s budget. Therefore, neither disclosure nor disqualification is required.