Opinion 09-84

June 3-4, 2009


Digest:         A judge may not lecture police recruits about proper courtroom decorum and demeanor when testifying in the courtroom.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(A)(1) - (3); 100.4(B); Opinions 08-49; 07-29; 06-15; 98-73 (Vol. XVII); 96-44 (Vol. XIV); 95-121 (Vol. XIII).


         A judge asks whether he/she may lecture police recruits about proper demeanor when testifying in a courtroom and about general courtroom decorum.

         A judge must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all the judge’s activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge may engage in extra-judicial activities, including teaching, as long as doing so does not (1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge; (2) detract from the dignity of judicial office; or (3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties and is not incompatible with judicial office (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A] [1]-[3]).

         The fact that the judge’s intended audience consists of law enforcement personnel does not, in and of itself, render a speaking engagement ethically impermissible (see Opinions 06-15; 98-73 [Vol. XVII]; 96-44 [Vol. XIV]). The question is whether the subject matter of the judge’s lecture would create an appearance of impropriety or partiality.

         The Committee previously has advised that a judge should not teach police officers how to successfully prosecute vehicle and traffic cases (see Opinion 95-121 [Vol. XIII]) or how to draft sufficient accusatory instruments and other documents they present to a court (see Opinion 07-29), as doing so would create an appearance of impropriety and cast doubt on the judge’s ability to be impartial. For the same reasons, a judge may not teach cross-examination techniques to attorneys employed by an institutional provider of indigent defense services whose employees regularly appear in the judge’s court (see Opinion 08-49).

         In the Committee’s view, teaching appropriate courtroom demeanor and decorum to police recruits so they are more effective in court and better prepared to testify during court proceedings - primarily for the prosecution - is impermissible for the same reasons. (see 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2[A]; 100.4[A][1]).