May 7, 1992
Digest: A judge may write a letter to a firm providing information about an attorney for use in the attorney’s discrimination lawsuit as long as the information is limited to objective facts.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2.
A judge asks whether he or she may write a letter providing information to a law firm about an attorney, in connection with the attorney’s anticipated discrimination law suit in federal court, who has appeared before the judge. The law firm is representing the attorney and has requested information from the judge about: (1) nature of the relationship with the attorney; (2) the period of time the judge has known the attorney; (3) the judge’s observation of the attorney; (4) the number of times and the types of cases in which the attorney appeared before the judge; (5) the judge’s evaluation of the attorney’s legal ability and judgment; and (6) the judge’s estimation of the attorney’s integrity.
The judge asks whether providing such information is proper, and if such a letter is written, would that disqualify the judge from sitting on those cases in which the possible defendant in the discrimination suit, the county attorney’s office, appears.
Section 100.2 (c) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator states, in pertinent part:
No judge shall lend the prestige of his or her office to advance the private interest 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.
The judge may write the letter to the law firm, although it is a matter of discretion with the judge whether to do so. The judge should limit the letter to statements of objective facts in connection with items 1 through 5. The judge should not answer item 6 about the attorney’s integrity as that is in the nature of character testimony, which cannot be given by a judge except in the context of an employment or education reference or where the judge is subpoenaed to testify or the judge’s opinion is solicited officially by an official governmental agency.
If the judge writes such a letter, and limits it to statements of objective facts, the judge need not disqualify himself or herself in further matters involving the possible defendant serving as counsel.