Opinion: 98-150
January 28, 1999
Digest:    A judge may arraign prison inmates in a courtroom open to the public in a public area of a prison, provided that there are valid security reasons to do so and that the holding of such proceedings at the prison rather than the local court facility is not in violation of law.

Rule:    Jud. Law §4; UCJA §106(1);
            22 NYCRR 214.2(a); 100.2(A);
            Opinions 94-112 (Vol. XIII);
            94-79 (Vol. XII); 88-116 (Vol. II).


            A town judge has been asked to arraign prison inmates in cases in which the inmates are defendants in pending criminal proceedings, in a court room within a maximum security facility. The court room is constructed in a large visiting room which is open to the public. As stated by the inquirer, the request was made in order to meet security concerns arising out of what would otherwise be the need to move the defendants from the maximum security facility to the local court facility for arraignment.

            At the outset, the Committee notes that both statute and rule address the question of the location of court proceedings. Judiciary Law §4, for example, mandates that the sittings of every court must be in a location where the public may freely attend. As to local courts, in particular, the Uniform Justice Court Act states that a local justice "may hold court anywhere within the municipality." UJCA §106(1). Further, section 214.2(a) of the Uniform Civil Rules for the Justice Courts provides that "It is the policy that the public is best served by justice courts which function in facilities provided by municipality . . . When facilities are provided by the municipality, the sessions of the court shall be held therein."

            The purpose of all such provisions is to assure that court proceedings are held in official public facilities and not at private locations where unfettered public access may be jeopardized or where the perception of the public nature of what is occurring may be obscured. The use of a prison facility which is, of course, an official governmental structure, does not by itself, carry such dangers. Indeed, the Committee also takes note of the fact that a variety of court proceedings involving imprisoned inmates are frequently held at the place of detention, e.g., Court of Claims actions, the hearing of Article 78 petitions, habeas corpus proceedings, etc.

            A judge is, of course, obligated to "respect and comply with the law" (22 NYCRR 100.2[A]) and "to be faithful to the law," 22 NYCRR 100.3(B)(1). Thus, a judge must adhere to any legal requirement concerning the location of the holding of court. Whether, in this particular instance, the particular facility meets those legal requirements is, therefore, a legal question, which the Committee is not authorized to answer. See e.g., Opinions 94-112 (Vol. XIII); 94-79 (Vol. XII); 88-116 (Vol. II). However, assuming that the holding of arraignments at the prison, as described, is not in violation of law, the Committee sees no ethical impediment to the conduct of such proceedings provided the security reasons for doing so are bona fide and not simply a matter of convenience and preference.