June 10, 1993
Digest: A town judge may not participate in a program devised by the District Attorney, which directs the manner in which the judge may reduce charges in traffic infraction cases in his or her court.
Rules: 22 NYCRR §100.1; Opinion 87-28(a).
A town judge inquiries about the propriety of implementing a program devised by the local district attorney concerning the reduction of vehicle and traffic infractions in the town court.
The District Attorney has discontinued prosecuting traffic violations in the judge’s court and has delegated that function to the arresting police officers. In general, there is to be no plea bargaining because, the District Attorney has stated, no one is entitled to a reduction of a vehicle and traffic charge. However, the District Attorney met with a committee of the Magistrates’ Association and agreed to a reduction program for such charges.
In a memorandum addressed to “all local court judges,” the District Attorney directs the manner in which local courts must implement this program. The plan requires defendants to provide the court with an abstract of their driving records. The court then is directed to examine the records and advise defendants accordingly, to submit weekly reports of requests for reduction to the District Attorney for examination by an assistant district attorney for either approval or disapproval, and to inform all defendants not to call the District Attorney’s office concerning reductions. Finally, the District Attorney states, “I want to make it categorically clear that the justices have no authority whatsoever to grant any reductions.”
The Rules of the Chief Administrator of the Courts, Section 100.1 thereof, provides:
Section 100.1 UPHOLDING THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE JUDICIARY. An independent and honorable Judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. Every judge shall participate in establishing, maintaining, and enforcing, and shall himself or herself observe, high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the Judiciary may be preserved. The provisions of this Part shall be construed and applied to further that objective.
The program of the District Attorney imposes upon the court a duty (1) to obtain a driver-defendant’s driving record; (2) to advise the defendant to fill out a request for reduction; (3) to provide various related documents to the District Attorney; and (4) the program prohibits the courts from granting any reduction in pleas.
A district attorney is without authority to impose rules of procedure upon a court. To do so is an intrusion upon the independence of the judiciary and violates section 100.1 of the Rules of the Chief Administrator of the Courts. See also Opinion 87-28(a), Vol. I.
Accordingly, it would be unethical for the judge to participate in the District Attorney’s program.