Opinion: 98-143
December 3, 1998
Digest:    Where it is unlikely that the judge will be called upon to appoint Legal Aid Society lawyers, or that Legal Aid Society lawyers will be appearing before the judge, the judge may permit his/her Principal Law Clerk to continue to serve on the Board of Directors of the county Legal Aid Society.

Rule:    22 NYCRR 100.2;
            Opinion 97-139


            A full-time judge whose Principal Law Clerk is a member of the Board of Directors of the local Legal Aid Society in a rural county inquires as to the propriety of the law clerk continuing to maintain membership on the Board.

            The judge advises the Committee that Legal Aid lawyers "very infrequently" appear before the judge. Further, since the county in which the judge presides has an "18b" program, it is not foreseeable that the judge would be appointing Legal Aid attorneys to represent indigent clients in the court. In addition, a letter from the Executive Director of the local Legal Aid Society, states that Board members do not have access to client files or client information, and can neither direct nor influence client representation.

            Here, the question is whether the employment by the judge of a law clerk who maintains a relationship with an organization charged with the responsibility of defending persons accused of crime creates an appearance of impropriety in contravention of section 100.2 of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. That is, does the association between the law clerk and the Legal Aid Society somehow connote bias or a lack of impartiality which is attributable to the judge?

            Given the facts stated by the judge, the Committee does not believe that such a danger is present. However, should the occasion(s) arise where the judge is called upon to appoint a Legal Aid lawyer, or a Legal Aid lawyer appears before the judge, the judge must make disclosure of the law clerk's association, and insure that the law clerk is totally insulated from the particular case. The law clerk may not have any involvement in any Legal Aid matter that may come before the judge. See also, Opinion 97-139.