September 19, 2019
This responds to your inquiry (19-95) asking whether you may write a letter in support of an inmate’s clemency application at the request of the inmate or his/her attorney. The letter would detail your personal observations of the inmate’s participation and leadership role in a youth outreach program offered at the correctional facility where the inmate is incarcerated.
The Committee has consistently advised that the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct prohibit judges from voluntarily “giving character references for individuals who are the subject of criminal or professional misconduct proceedings, except when asked to do so directly by a tribunal, hearing officer or other governing body or official involved” (Opinion 16-27 [internal quotations and citations omitted]). Indeed, Opinion 19-21 makes clear that a judge should not interject him/herself into the clemency process. Accordingly, barring an official request from the Governor’s Executive Clemency Bureau, you may not provide a character reference on behalf of this inmate’s clemency application. However, it is permissible for the inmate to list you as a reference.
Enclosed, for your convenience, are Opinions 19-21; 16-27 and 02-47 which address this issue.
Very truly yours,
George D. Marlow, Assoc. Justice (Ret.)
Appellate Div., First Dep’t
Hon. Margaret T. Walsh
Supreme Court Justice