March 9, 1995
Digest: A judge may join an organization devoted to improving the legal system’s handling of domestic violence matters. A judge should not join an organization that rehabilitates persons with criminal histories.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.4(c); 100.5(b).
A full-time judge asks whether he or she may serve as a member of a “Domestic Violence Task Force” and an organization that helps to reform persons with criminal histories, called “Project Safe”. The judge presides over felony cases.
Rule 100.4 of the Rules of the Chief Administrator states, in part as follows:
A judge, subject to the proper performance of his or her judicial duties, may engage in the following quasi-judicial activities, if in doing so the judge does not cast doubt on the capacity to decide impartiality any issue that may come before him or her:
. . .
(c) a judge may serve as a member, officer or director of an organization or governmental agency devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice. He or she may assist such an organization in raising funds and may participate in their management and investment, but shall not personally participate in public fund-raising activities. He or she may make recommendations to public and private fund-granting agencies on projects and programs concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.
The purpose of the “Domestic Violence Task Force” is to examine and propose improvements in the manner in which domestic violence is handled in the county in which the judge sits. The organization includes representatives from local police agencies, the District Attorney’s staff, the Public Defender’s staff, social service agencies, Family Court representatives, and several judges.
The Committee finds that the judge may serve as a member of the “Domestic Violence Task Force” because it is an organization devoted to the improvement of the legal system. Because the task force includes persons from both the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices, the judge’s participation will not cast doubt on his or her impartiality.
With respect to “Project Safe”, the other organization about which the judge inquires, the Rules of the Chief Administrator allow judges to “participate in civic and charitable activities that do not reflect adversely upon impartiality or interfere with the performance of judicial duties” (22 NYCRR 100.5[b]). That organization appears to involve contact with persons who are defendants in the criminal justice system, and who may appear before the judge. Accordingly, participation in the organization may reflect adversely on the judge’s impartiality (see Opinion 88-150, Vol. III), and the judge should not join it.