June 8, 1995
Note: Please see Opinion 15-159, which modifies the present opinion.
Digest: A village justice should not consent to the part-time court clerk working as a receptionist in a law firm which occasionally represents clients in the village court.
Rule: 22 NYCRR 100.2(a), (c)
A village justice inquires as to whether a part-time village court clerk may accept employment as a receptionist in a local law firm within the village, where the attorneys employed by the firm occasionally represent clients in the village court.
The clerk has inquired of the justice as to whether he/she may accept such employment.
This question initially would seem to fall outside the purview of this Committee, since the inquiry involves the conduct of one who is not a judge, but rather a clerk in the judge's court. However, additional relevant facts bring it within our purview. The position of court clerk is filled by an appointee of the mayor. The justice must give his or her consent to validate the appointment. The law firm is one of the larger firms in the area and one of its members is a town justice. The court clerk runs the part for both the village justice and the acting village justice.
A judge is responsible for the maintenance of the appearance of propriety in his or her courtroom. Section 100.2 of the Rules of the chief Administrator states:
(a) 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. ***(c) No judge shall ... permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence him or her.
The appearance of propriety would be severely compromised if the receptionist of "X" law firm is also the court clerk. It would appear to the public that one might have an advantage with the court if one retained "X" law firm; that the law firm was in a special position to influence the justice. Thus, to the extent that the justice's position on the matter is controlling or persuasive, the justice should not consent to the acceptance of such employment by the court clerk.