Opinion 09-76

March 19, 2009


Dear Judge :

         This responds to your inquiry (09-76) in which you ask whether the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct require judges to assign counsel for unlawful possession of marijuana cases where a defendant cannot afford his/her own counsel.

         The Committee’s jurisdiction is limited to issuing “advisory opinions to judges and justices of the Unified Court System concerning issues related to ethical conduct, proper execution of judicial duties, and possible conflicts between private interests and official duties” (22 NYCRR 101.1). In the Committee’s view, the question whether a judge must assign counsel for an unlawful possession of marijuana case is a purely legal one, governed by applicable statutes and/or case law rather than the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. It is thus an issue solely for the courts to determine (cf. Jud. Law 212[2][l]). However, given the nature of the inquiry, the Committee suggests you request an opinion from the Office of Court Administration’s City Town and Village Court Resource Center (1-800-232-0630) or any other recognized body charged with providing local courts with legal guidance.  

                                                 Very truly yours,

                                                 George D. Marlow

                                                 Justice of the Supreme Court

                                                 Committee Chair