Opinion: 97-139

December 11, 1997

Digest:  Under the circumstances presented, a judge may permit his/her Principal Law Clerk to continue to serve on the Board of Directors of two not-for-profit organizations that represent indigent defendants in criminal cases in venues other than the one where the judge sits.

Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(A); 100.3(C)(2).


            The inquiring judge seeks the advice of the Committee concerning the involvement of the judge's Principal Law Clerk with two not-for-profit organizations. Both groups have contracts with the municipality to provide legal services for indigent defendants at the trial and appellate levels, respectively. Neither organization represents defendants in the county where the judge sits nor in the Appellate Division department covering the judge's Court. The Principal Law Clerk serves as a member of the Board of Directors of both organizations. As explained by the judge:

In his capacity as a member of the Board of these two organizations Mr. _____ never provides legal representation for any client, and is never involved in discussions relating to such client representation. His primary role is to provide guidance in matters relating to the fiscal operations of these groups, i.e., oversight of leases, budget proposals and requests to the City ... and other funding sources, health plans, annuities, pensions, and the like.

            Based on the facts stated, the Committee does not believe that the judge is ethically required to disallow such an association between the Principal Law Clerk and the two organizations. That is, the relationship of the staff member to the organizations is in no way a departure from the standards of fidelity and diligence required to be maintained by those persons subject to the judge's direction and control under section 100.3(C)(2) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. Nor does that association manifest bias, or reflect adversely on the impartiality of the judge. 22 NYCRR 100.2(A). Under the circumstances, the judge may allow the Principal Law Clerk to continue serving the two organizations in the capacity described.