April 19, 2007
Digest: A Court Attorney-Referee may not write a character reference on behalf of a friend charged with a felony, to be sent to the judge assigned to the case.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.6(A); 100.2(C); Opinions 06-172; 04-130; 02-09; 98-46 (Vol. XVI); 95-119 (Vol. XIII).
A Court Attorney-Referee asks whether he/she may write a character reference on behalf of a friend charged with a felony, to be sent to the judge assigned to the case.
The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct generally apply to quasi-judicial officers such as Court Attorney-Referees. 22 NYCRR 100.6(A); Opinions 06-172; 04-130; 98-46 (Vol. XVI). The Title Standard for that position clearly provides that "such persons may be exercising a quasi-judicial function in that they are authorized to conduct hearings, take testimony and issue findings of facts and confidential opinions." Opinion 95-119 (Vol. XIII).
Pursuant to the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, "[a] judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others . . .", and is prohibited from ". . . testify[ing] voluntarily as a character witness." 22 NYCRR 100.2(C). In previous opinions, this Committee has advised that the Rules prohibit judges from voluntarily writing letters on behalf of individuals involving alleged criminal or professional misconduct, unless a request for such a letter has been made by the agency involved. See Opinion 02-09 and opinions cited therein. This would include writing on behalf of a friend involved in a federal criminal proceeding outside New York State. Opinion 02-09.
The Court Attorney-Referee in the present inquiry, therefore, is precluded from writing a character reference on behalf of a friend charged with a felony.