Opinion 96-131

December 12, 1996


Digest:         A part-time judge may not remain a member of a law firm as a partner or associate if another member of the firm represents the local sheriff’s department union whose members are directly involved in most of the vehicle and traffic and criminal matters heard in the judge’s court.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100-2(A), 100.3(A), 100.4(G), Opinions 93-110, 91-129


         A part-time town judge, who practices law, informs the Committee that one of the judge’s law partners is “considering representing our county’s sheriff’s union”, and inquires whether an ethical impropriety might be presented. The judge notes that the sheriff’s department is directly involved in “the overwhelming majority of vehicle and traffic and criminal tickets written in [the judge’s] court”.

         Part-time judges are exempt from the prohibition against practicing law applicable to full-time judges (sections 100.4[G]; 100.6[B][1]). However, it is the part-time judge’s judicial duties which must “take precedence over all...other activities” (Section 100.3[A]). Also, the nature of the private law practice engaged in by a part-time judge must be such as to promote “public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary” (Section 100.2[A]).

         The Committee has previously expressed its opinion that a part-time judge, who is permitted to practice law, should not act as counsel to a Police Chief’s Association (Opinion 93-110). Also, the Committee has previously stated that, a part-time judge should not serve as counsel to an association formed for the purpose of training police officers to work with juveniles (Opinion 91-29).

         The Committee recognizes that a distinguishing factor in the present case is that it is the inquiring judge’s law partner, rather than the judge personally, who is planning to represent the sheriff’s union. However, the Committee believes, under the particular facts of this case, that there would still be “an appearance of partiality” (Opinion 91-29) if the judge were to preside in a court where matters involving the sheriff’s department predominate, while in partnership with or as an associate of the attorney for the sheriff’s union.