October 19, 2017
Digest: A village justice may permit the court clerk to complete a college internship for a district attorney’s office located in a different county
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.3(C)(2); Opinions 17-68; 16-142; 09-04; 01-35; 99-166; 99-10.
A part-time village justice asks if he/she may permit his/her full-time court clerk to complete a college internship in a district attorney’s office located in another county.
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge also must require his/her staff to observe the standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to the judge (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[C]).
Nevertheless, the limitations on a judge’s extrajudicial conduct do not automatically apply to the judge’s court clerk (see e.g. Opinion 17-68). For example, we have advised that a judge’s law clerk, unlike a judge, may serve on a town council (see Opinion 01-35) or a public school board (see Opinion 99-10) and may engage in fund-raising activities for a not-for-profit organization on his/her own time and away from court premises (see Opinion 17-68). Moreover, we have, for some purposes, distinguished between a student’s temporary employment through an internship or externship and more permanent post-graduation employment (see e.g. Opinion 09-04).
Further, although a town or village justice may not permit a part-time court clerk to accept outside employment as assistant to the local prosecutor that regularly appears in his/her court (see Opinion 16-142), we have advised that a village justice may permit the village court clerk to accept appointment as a State certified police officer in a different locale (see Opinion 99-166).
Here, we can see no impropriety in allowing the court clerk for a village in one county to complete a college internship with a district attorney’s office located in a different county. This temporary unpaid employment, even if it involves collegial working relationships with prosecutors and law enforcement officers in the other county, cannot reasonably create an appearance of impropriety with respect to cases and issues that come before the village justice.