March 14, 1991
Digest: A part-time judge may not volunteer to help set up a victim impact panel to which the judge would then refer drunk driving defendants as part of their sentence.
Rules: 22 NYCRR §§100.2; 100.3(a)(1).
A part-time judge, who is a member of a local magistrates’ association, inquires whether the judge may volunteer to serve on a committee to help set up a “Victim Impact Panel with Alcohol Services,” which would bring drunk drivers together with victims of drunk driving crashes to discuss how the victims were affected by the accidents. These panels are sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving Chapters and other groups, with a goal of requiring convicted drunk drivers to attend panel sessions as part of their sentences. In order to accomplish this goal, judges must be willing to refer offenders to the panel. It is presumed that the judge's court has criminal jurisdiction.
Section 100.3(a)(1) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator states, “A judge shall be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence in it. A judge shall be unswayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism.” There may appear to be some impropriety in a judge’s setting up a panel and then referring defendants to the panel. 22 NYCRR 100.2.
Accordingly, a part-time judge should not serve on a steering committee to set up a Victim Impact Panel. See Opinion 90-12, Vol. V, in which this Committee found that a judge should not serve as a mediator with a dispute resolution agency to which the judge refers court cases.