April 27, 1995
Digest: Acquiescence by a town justice in a procedure adopted by the Driving While Intoxicated coordinator of the county in which the court over which the justice presides is located, for distribution of funds to courts to assist in the enforcement of DWI statutes, does not violate any ethical standards.
Rule: 22 NYCRR 100.2(a)
A town justice, on behalf of the county magistrates’ association in the county in which the court over which the justice presides is located, inquires as to the ethical appropriateness of a procedure used by that county’s DWI coordinator in distributing monies allocated by the State and derived from Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192 prosecutions, to be used to assist in the enforcement of DWI statutes. The inquiring justice relates that the past practice was to allocate monies to each town and village based on the percentage of total Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192 prosecutions. However, in order to allocate the monies in a more equitable manner and to insure that they will be used for their originally intended purpose, the county DWI coordinator has instituted a process whereby a budget line has been established, specifically designated for equipment and supplies which would enhance the court’s operation, particularly with regard to DWI adjudications. Under this procedure, courts directly submit their requests for equipment and supplies to the DWI coordinator.
Section 100.2 (a) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator of the Courts requires that:
A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall conduct himself or herself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
In Opinion 93-95, Vol. XI, this Committee opined that a part-time judge could not simultaneously hold the position of administrator of the “Stop DWI Program”, as it would be improper for the judge to be administrator of a program funded by fines collected in DWI cases, including those fines imposed by the judge.
In the present situation, the justice does not participate in the budget process, nor does he/she determine how much, if any, money is allocated by the coordinator to the justice’s court. As there is no relationship between the amount of fines imposed by the justice and the amount of money the county DWI coordinator assigns to the justice’s court, there is no appearance of impropriety. The monetary fines levied in DWI cases and subsequently distributed by the county DWI coordinator appear to be sufficiently removed from the courts where the fines were imposed so as to eliminate any appearance of impropriety.