December 8, 2011
Digest: A judge may not permit law students participating in a law school clinical program to sit at the bench while the judge arraigns criminal defendants as preparation for representing criminal defendants on behalf of the clinical program before the same judge.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A).
A supervising judge asks whether judges in an arraignment part may, as part of “a clinical program that trains [the] students in criminal defense practice,” permit law students to sit at the bench with them while they arraign criminal defendants. The judge explains that the law school’s clinical program “works with the Legal Aid Society” to train the students to “appear in the arraignment and all-purpose parts and represent defendants with the supervision of their professor and Legal Aid attorneys.” The clinical program is specifically designed so that students “may appear before the judges with whom they have observed on subsequent court dates.”
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always act to promote the public’s confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]).
Although it is not improper to allow law students to observe arraignment proceedings in preparation for their own appearances on behalf of criminal defendants, it is the Committee’s view that permitting them to sit at the bench while a judge arraigns criminal defendants as preparation for representing criminal defendants on behalf of the clinical program before the same judge would create an appearance of impropriety and undermine public confidence in the judiciary’s impartiality in violation of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct.