Opinion 88-10


March 14, 1988

 

Topic:          Whether a judge may write a letter of recommendation on behalf of a law school or job applicant.

 

Digest:         A judge may write a reference letter on behalf of a law school or job applicant if the recommendation reflects the judge’s appraisal of the abilities of the applicant.

 

While these letters may be written on judicial letterhead stationery, the words “Personal and Unofficial” should be noted on the stationery.

 

Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2(c); Canon 2B


Opinion:


         A judge asks the Committee whether the judge may write a letter of recommendation on behalf of a law school applicant or on behalf of an applicant for a job.


         Section 100.2(c) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator of the Courts and Canon 2B of the Code of Judicial Conduct of the Judiciary Law are relevant to the question whether a judge ma write a letter of recommendation to a law school or to an employer on behalf of an applicant.


         Section 100.2(c) provides that, “No judge shall 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. No judge shall testify voluntarily as a character witness.”


         Canon 2B provides that, “A judge should not allow his family, social, or other relationships to influence his judicial conduct or judgment. He should not lend the prestige of his office to advance the private interests of others; nor should he convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence him. He should not testify voluntarily as a character witness.”


         The transmission of a letter of recommendation or reference is not prohibited by the foregoing Rule or Canon. To hold otherwise would prevent, for example, a lawyer, or even a housekeeper, who has worked directly for a judge, from obtaining the judge’s recommendation when seeking other employment, or a paralegal who has worked directly fora judge from obtaining the judges’ recommendation when applying to a law school. In such instances the judge not only is not prohibited from writing an appropriate letter, but is expected to write such a letter, and is encouraged to do so.


         It is the view of the Committee that a judge may write a letter of recommendation to a law school or to an employer on behalf of an applicant provided that the recommendation reflects the judge’s opinion of the applicant’s prior history or character. The judge may use his or her judicial letterhead stationery for a letter of recommendation or reference, provided that the words “Personal and Unofficial” are noted clearly on the stationery.


         This opinion is advisory only and does not bind either the Office of Court Administration or the Commission on Judicial Conduct.