October 11, 1996
Digest: A judge should not participate in a program to collect DWI fines.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(A); Opinions 93-95 (Vol. XI); 91-124 (Vol. VIII).
A judge inquires whether the judge may participate in a STOP-DWI program which seeks to coordinate a county-wide effort to collect outstanding DWI fines. As part of the program, the judge would sign a prepared letter using the court’s name and address as the letterhead, in which a delinquent convicted DWI defendant would be advised that records reveal the fine has not been paid and that continued failure to pay “will result in the issuance of a warrant of arrest and/or suspension of your driver’s license”.
The program wold seek to have the courts provide printouts of delinquent defendants, and the STOP-DWI group would then print out the court letters and do all of the follow up to implement the program including mailing the letters, advising the District Attorney and sending notices to all county newspapers.
It is the opinion of the Committee that the intended participation by judges would infringe upon the independence of the judiciary in violation of Section 100.1 of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct and would cast doubt on the impartiality of the judiciary in violation of Section 100.2(A), inasmuch as this private organization would be, on the one hand, acting without any direct supervision and control by the judiciary and, yet, conveying the impression that the program is judicially mandated.
Based on the information presented, it appears that the program has a laudatory goal (i.e. the collection of fines) but this does not permit the judiciary to give the appearance of being in partnership with the private organization. See also Opinion 93-95 (Vo.. XI); 91-124 (Vol. VII).