January 18, 1990
Digest: A part-time judge may communicate with alleged traffic offenders who have not appeared to answer traffic tickets, to warn of the possible consequences of not responding to a ticket; however it is preferable that the clerk of the court alone sign the communication.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(a).
A part-time judge inquires whether it is ethically permissible for him to co-sign a letter with the court clerk, written on court stationery, to non-appearing defendants charged with parking violations, advising them of their non-appearance and of the consequences if they do not appear in response to the ticket.
While the Committee believes that there is no ethical bar to such a procedure, it being presumed that the ticket or other document has been filed with the court, thereby giving the court jurisdiction, the Committee prefers that only the court clerk, rather than the judge, sign the letter, because the judge’s impartiality may appear to be jeopardized, based on his personal knowledge of the case. The letter may warn that a warrant may be issued for failure to appear or otherwise respond, but may not refer to a failure to pay a “fine”, since the communication should make it clear that the respondent, not having been found guilty, still is permitted to plead “not guilty”.