March 10, 1994
Digest: It is unethical for judges to attend “training sessions” sponsored by a law enforcement agency if the purpose is “to maximize enforcement.”
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(a), (c).
Two part-time local court justices inquire whether it is ethically permissible to accept an invitation to attend a “specialized training” program designed for prosecutors and magistrates.
The session will include instruction on various sophisticated substance detection procedures. The purpose of the program is “to provide the information essential for effective prosecution of the drunk/drugged driver and the judicial details related to conducting such a trial” (emphasis added).
The training program is run jointly by the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services and the Bureau for Municipal Police as part of a DWI Enforcement effort called “Project Z.E.R.O” (Zone Enforcement Reduction Operation).
This Committee concludes that attendance by judges at such a seminar would create the appearance of an impropriety in violation of 22 NYCRR 100.2(a), (c) which, in pertinent parts, read as follows:
(a) A judge ... shall conduct himself or herself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the ... impartiality of the Judiciary.
(c) No judge ... shall ... convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence him or her.
The training program’s purpose and agenda are clearly planned to enhance the conviction rate of people accused of alcohol and drug-related vehicle and traffic crimes. While that is or may be a laudable, overall societal goal, it is not one which the Judiciary shares as part of its constitutional mandate. The Judiciary exists to assure fairness and impartiality to all those accused of crime, and to protect their legal rights. To participate in the proposed educational enterprise would at least appear to place that mission at risk.
Judges, of course, should be encouraged to attend seminars, but only ones whose agendas are not born of strictly partisan concerns.