Opinion: 00-28

May 4, 2000

Digest:  A magistrate's association may allow law enforcement officials to be non-voting and non-office holding associate members of the association, provided that the by-laws are amended to permit defense attorneys to be associate members.

Rule:  22 NYCRR 100.2(A).


            A part-time town judge, who is an officer of a county magistrate's association, asks on behalf of the association, whether prosecutors, police officials, sheriffs, probation officers, public defenders and defense attorneys may be associate members of the association. Associate members may not vote or hold office in the association.

            The Committee sees no ethical barrier to allowing both persons associated with law enforcement and persons involved in the defense of those accused of crimes to be non-voting and non-office holding members of the magistrate's association. But the problem in this instance is that the by-laws of the association appear to restrict associate membership to various law enforcement officials. No reference is made to private defense attorneys or public defenders.

            Exclusion of such persons from associate membership while granting it to those associated with law enforcement is, we believe, improper, since such exclusion undercuts "public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary." 22 NYCRR 100.2(A). We therefore suggest that the by-laws be amended to allow for associate membership of public defenders and private defense attorneys. In the absence of such an amendment, the persons falling within the various law enforcement categories presently specified should not be allowed the privilege of associate membership.