March 11, 1993
Digest: A judge may write a letter of reference on behalf of an applicant for a promotion to a higher level academic position, as long as there is no potential for conflict or appearance of impropriety. The recommendation must reflect the judge’s appraisal of the abilities of the applicant.
Rules: 22 NYCRR § 100.2(c), Canon 2B.
The instant query is whether a judge may write a letter of recommendation on behalf of an attorney who appears before the court. The attorney, who currently is an associate law professor, is applying for a promotion to a full professorship. The request for a reference explicitly asks for statement on the applicant’s “expertise” as a practitioner of law.
Section 100.2(c) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator of the Courts and Canon 2B of the Code of Judicial Conduct are relevant to this inquiry. 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 the 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 [or her] family, social, or other relationship to influence his judicial conduct or judgment. He [or she] should not lend the prestige of his [or her] office to advance the private interests of others; nor should he [or she] convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in the special position to influence him or her. He [or she] should not testify voluntarily as a character witness.”
Neither the Rule of the Chief Administrator nor the Canon prevents a letter of recommendation which reflects a judge’s opinion of a person’s character or work history if the judge has worked with that person. Therefore, if a judge has a reliable personal knowledge concerning an applicant who seeks a reference which reflects his or her expertise as a practitioner of the law, the judge may write such a reference as long as there is no potential for conflict or appearance of impropriety. The reference may be written on the judicial letterhead of the judge, provided that the words “Personal and Unofficial” are noted clearly on the stationery.