Joint Opinion:


May 4, 2000

Digest:  A judge should not participate with law enforcement agencies in a project and to develop protocols or guidelines with respect to victims, in the handling of domestic violence matters, where the project excludes legal representatives of defendants, and is intended to aid in the prosecution of such cases on behalf of victims of domestic violence.

Rule:  22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(1); 100.4(C)(3);
           Opinions 95-34 (Vol. XIII); 96-96 (Vol. XIV);
           99-46; 99-61.


            Two judges seek the advice of the Committee concerning participation in domestic violence organizations.

            In inquiry 00-54, a full-time judge who hears domestic violence cases, inquires as to the propriety of participation in a "criminal justice focus group" intended to develop "protocols" and "mission statements," with various law enforcement groups for the local county coalition against domestic violence and sexual assault. The judge states that, "in effect this project asks the court . . . to endorse the goals of the project and in particular specific guide lines for the police, the District Attorney's Office and the Probation Department." No reference is made in the materials provided, to public defenders or any other defense representation.

            Judges may, of course, serve in organizations "devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system and the administration of justice" (22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3]); and, indeed, the Committee has approved the participation of a judge in a domestic violence task force. See Opinion 95-34 (Vol. XIII). But this was in a project in which both law enforcement agencies and public defenders were involved and in which the focus was on the manner in which cases were handled rather than being geared towards prosecution of such cases or advocacy on behalf of victims of domestic violence who are involved in court matters.

            Here, the group in which the judge has been asked to serve appears to consist solely of representatives of law enforcement agencies and its purpose is to aid the local coalition against domestic violence, which is essentially an advocacy organization.

            Under the circumstances, because of the focus of the enterprise and the composition of its membership, the Committee believes that there is a potential that participation in this project by a judge who hears such cases may cast reasonable doubt on his or her impartiality as a judge. 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(1). See also Opinions 96-96 (Vol. XIV); 99-61; 99-46. Accordingly, we advise that the inquiring judge should decline to participate.

            In inquiry 00-56, a part-time judge, on behalf of a county magistrates association, states that the association has been asked to have one of its members join the County Domestic Violence Task Force. No further details are provided, except that the judge notes that "there are no representatives of the Public Defenders' Office" in the Task Force. This would seem to imply that there are representatives of law enforcement agencies participating. If that is so, and defense representatives are excluded, a judge should not serve as a member of the Task Force. Further, whether the judge is a part-time or a full-time judge is of no significance in this regard. Both are to be guided by section 100.4(A)(1) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct which forbids a judge from engaging in extra-judicial activities that might cast reasonable doubt on the "judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge." 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(1).