January 28, 1988
Topic: Part-time Town Justice as legal advisor to residents’ association located within his or her jurisdictional limits.
Digest: Part-time Town Justice should not be a legal advisor to a residents’ association located within the town served by his or her court.
Rules: 22 NYCRR §§100.2(a), 100.2(c), 100.3(c)(I), 100.3(c)(3)(iii), 100.5(b)(1), 100.7; Code of Judicial Conduct, (CJC) Canons 2A, 2B, 5B(I), and “Compliance” paragraph A(1)
This opinion responds to an inquiry dated December 10, 1987 by a newly-elected, part-time Town Justice, who apparently is also an attorney. The question is whether he may act as legal advisor to a residents’ association involving homes located within the town served by his justice court.
It is the opinion of this Committee that it would be improper for a part-time town justice to act as a legal advisor to a homeowners’ association involving homes situated within the geographical limits of his court’s jurisdiction.
Judges all must conduct themselves in a manner that promotes public confidence in their integrity and impartiality. 22 NYCRR §100.2(a) and CJC, Canon 2A. Furthermore, judges may not “lend the prestige of his or her office to advance the private interests of others; nor shall any judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence him or her.” 22 NYCRR §100.2(c). It is reasonable to expect that a perception will be created that all those who appear before the lawyer-justice, who also live in the neighborhood served by the residents’ association, will have an edge, be it conscious or not.
Furthermore, pursuant to 22 NYCRR §100.5(b)(1) , a judge shall not serve, in an advisory capacity, any organization whose activities may become the subject of proceedings in the court in which he or she serves. It is likely that there will be activities of the organization or of its many members that will become the subject of court proceedings. Moreover, it is abundantly clear that no member of the residents’ association may appear as a party before the lawyer-justice while he or she is an advisor to the association. 22 NYCRR §100.2(a), (c), and §100.3(c). In addition, it is clear that a lawyer-justice should be advised to disqualify himself or herself whenever any member homeowner appeared before him as a party. This, of course, could bring about an excessive number of cases wherein disqualifications are made. 22 NYCRR §100.5(b).
Finally, it is reasonably possible, if not likely, that the residents’ association will find it necessary and advisable to take political positions on various state, county, or town issues of concern to its members, or to engage in activities which promote the economic or political advantage of its members. Such possibilities would cause the lawyer-justice to be and to appear to be in violation of 22 NYCRR §100.2(c), §100.5(b), and §100.7(e).
For all of the foregoing reasons, this Committee recommends against a lawyer-town justice acting as a legal advisor to a residents’ association located in the town served by his or her court.
This Opinion is advisory only and is not binding upon either the Office of Court Administration or the Commission on Judicial Conduct.