October 19, 2000
Note: While the outcome of this opinion remains unchanged, please see Opinion 17-110 for a discussion of a judge’s ability to initiate, suggest, or facilitate a plea agreement in criminal cases.
Digest: A judge should not send to traffic defendants forms prepared by the District Attorney's office requesting certain information from defendants, but should utilize official Unified Court System forms informing defendants of available options.
Rule: 22 NYCRR 100.2(A); Opinions 99-82; 96-132 (Vol. XV); 93-58 (Vol. XI).
A Town Court judge informs the Committee that he/she has been asked by the District Attorney's office to mail to defendants in traffic cases, a two-page document from the District Attorney explaining the various options available to the defendant and asking the defendant to provide information concerning, among other things, his or her criminal record, past traffic convictions and other information. Presumably, this information will be evaluated by the District Attorney's office in determining whether to recommend a disposition. The judge asks whether it is proper for the Court to include such material in its correspondence to traffic defendants informing them of dates for trial.
The Committee regards such participation by the Court in what is essentially the work of the prosecutor's office in determining whether to recommend a disposition, as improper. It has previously advised in similar situations that judicial involvement of the kind requested could adversely reflect on the impartiality of the judiciary in violation of section 100.2(A) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. See Opinions 96-132 (Vol. XV); 93-58 (Vol. XI). Indeed, the general question was considered in depth in Opinion 99-82, in which the Committee advised an Administrative Judge that the Court could distribute forms devised by the Unified Court System itself which informs defendants of all available options, including the contacting of the prosecutor's office, for the purpose of negotiating a plea, provided certain safeguards were provided. Accordingly, we advise the inquiring judge to utilize such a form, and to decline to involve the court in the dissemination of documents prepared by and on behalf of the prosecutor's office.