June 9, 2006
Digest: A judge who presides over an Integrated Domestic Violence Court should not serve on the advisory board of an organization that provides representation and serves as a courtroom advocate on behalf of alleged victims of domestic violence, nor should the judge send a staff member of the court to serve on the board in lieu of the judge.
Rule: 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(1); 100.4(C)(3)(a); Opinion 96-96 (Vol. XV); 90-27 (Vol. V).
A judge who presides over an Integrated Domestic Violence Court has been invited to serve on the advisory board of an organization that “provides legal representation to litigants on the family side of the docket, who assert they are victims of domestic violence. In addition, that organization has a courtroom advocacy program in which non-attorneys assist alleged victims in legal proceedings before [the judge], and it also has a supervised visitation program under which [the judge] can order visits between non-custodial domestic abusers and their children.” The judge asks if it is improper to accept this invitation and, if it is improper, whether the judge may send the court’s resource coordinator to serve on the advisory board in place of the judge.
In the opinion of this Committee it would be improper for the judge to serve on this organization’s advisory board or to send the court’s resource coordinator to serve on the board in lieu of the judge. In Opinion 96-96 (Vol. XV), the Committee stated that a judge should not serve as a member of an advisory committee to an agency that provided services to victims of domestic violence, in light of the connection between the agency and the prosecution of such cases. An association of the judge with the agency as a member of its advisory committee would cast doubt on the judge’s impartiality, [See, 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(1)], and appears to violate section 100.4(C)(3)(a) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, which states:
(a) A judge should not serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor [of an organization] if it is likely that the organization (i) will be engaged in proceedings that ordinarily would come before the judge, or (ii) if the judge is a full-time judge, will be engaged regularly in adversary proceedings in any court.
We reach the same conclusion with respect to the proposed participation of the judge on the advisory board of the agency in question in this inquiry. The fact that the board, in this instance, “would be discussing policy matters and not individual cases” does not alter our conclusion. It is an advocacy organization that participates actively in court matters on behalf of particular parties in domestic violence litigation. That suffices, in our view, to render the proposed service to the agency as a member of its advisory board ethically impermissible.
The defect is not cured by sending the court’s resource coordinator to serve in the judge’s place. In effect, the person assigned would be acting as the judge’s representative in an activity that is forbidden to the judge. This would be improper. Moreover, the proposed service is to be distinguished from what was before the Advisory Committee in Opinion 90-27 (Vol. V), where the Committee held that a judge’s law clerk may serve as a member of a citizen’s advisory committee on domestic violence. The purpose of that committee, which had been created by the county legislature, was to solicit advice and recommendations from the community with respect to domestic violence and report to the legislature. It was not an advocacy group and played no role in the prosecution of domestic violence cases. That is not the situation presented in this inquiry, and therefore the resource coordinator should not serve on the advisory board of the agency in question.